APPEAL FROM JOHNSON CIRCUIT COURT, The Honorable Larry J. McKinney, Judge, Cause No. 37,227.
Ratliff, C. J. and Conover, J., Concur.
Michael R. Berry and Rex E. Thompson (the Deputies), third-party plaintiffs in trial court and appellants here, appeal a declaratory judgment rendered by the Johnson Circuit Court which permitted members of the news media to make reasonable use of tape recorders and cameras in a sheriff's merit board disciplinary hearing.
The stipulated facts reveal that the Deputies were charged by the Marion County Sheriff's Merit Board (the Merit Board) with misconduct. The charges arose out of the death of Valenda Heithecker, who died of multiple gunshot wounds inflicted by the Deputies. During the hearing before the Merit Board, it was discovered that one of the media representatives was using a tape recorder, in violation of a written rule promulgated by the Merit Board. The Merit Board recessed the hearing and, after consulting counsel, announced that the rule would be enforced. Tape recorders, cameras, and television cameras would not be permitted to be used in the hearing room. All the appellees, except the Merit Board, are members of the news media and joined in the action for declaratory judgment. They sought the right, under federal and state constitutional provisions and the Indiana Open Door Law, to use, subject to reasonable restrictions, tape recorders and television cameras in Merit Board disciplinary proceedings. The media prevailed in trial court, and the correctness of that ruling is the sole issue on appeal.
Two Indiana statutes and a rule of the Merit Board are relevant to the resolution of this case. IND. CODE 36-8-10-11(a) provides in part:
The sheriff may dismiss, demote, or temporarily suspend a county police officer for cause after preferring charges in writing and after a fair public hearing before the board, which is reviewable in the circuit court . . . . (Emphasis added.)
The Indiana Open Door Law, IND. CODE 5-14-1.5-1 to -7, requires in section 1, in part, that:
[T]he official action of public agencies be conducted and taken openly, unless otherwise expressly provided by statute, in order that the people may be fully informed. The purposes of this chapter are remedial, and its provisions are to be liberally construed with the view of carrying out its policy.
There is no contention that the merit Board is not a public agency subject to the Open Door Law. IND. CODE 5-14-1.5-3 (a) then provides:
Except as provided in section 6 [5-14-1.5-6] herein, all meetings of the governing bodies of public agencies must be open at all times for the purpose of permitting members of the public to observe and record them. (Emphasis added.)
IND. CODE 5-14-1.5-6, the exception mentioned in the preceding section, permits executive sessions in certain specified instances, from which the public may be excluded. ...