The Bismarck Public School District violated state law when it destroyed handwritten notes that were part of a pending open records request, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem wrote in an opinion released Wednesday.
Bismarck attorney Lawrence King requested documents from the school district in January, including handwritten notes of the school’s human resources director. The school district located the notes but determined they were “not easily legible or readable,” Stenehjem wrote. The district transcribed the notes into a Word document, shredded the handwritten notes and provided the Word document to King.
Stenehjem concluded that it was a violation of the state’s open records law when the district threw away the requested records.
“I appreciate the School’s attempt to be helpful in creating a more easily readable Word document of the notes; however, the request specifically asked for the handwritten notes. Therefore, the School should have provided the notes, even if illegible,” Stenehjem wrote.
Because the records were discarded, remedies for the open records violation are limited, Stenehjem wrote. No further action is available or necessary, he said.
An attorney representing the school district wrote in a memo to the attorney general's office that the school district employee made a "good faith decision" to type the records for readability and had no ill intent by destroying them.
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