An Indianapolis judge granted on Tuesday the National Election Defense Coalition’s motion to order the Indiana Secretary of State to produce, for confidential in chambers review, dozens of communications with an outside group pertaining to election security.

The documents—which may not be specific to Indiana—were sought by NEDC in a public records request for communications between Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson, and the private non-governmental organization the National Association for Secretaries of State (NASS), of which Lawson had recently served as president. When Secretary Lawson refused to provide the documents, claiming they were exempt from disclosure, NEDC (represented by Free Speech For People with the help of Indianapolis attorney William Groth) filed suit under the Indiana Access to Public Records Act.

The Secretary had withheld documents based on a statutory exemption for materials that pose “a reasonable likelihood of threatening public safety by exposing a vulnerability to terrorist attack.” No one disagrees that some election security documents might theoretically fall within that exemption. But the court agreed with NEDC that Secretary Lawson had failed to justify her assertion of that exemption in this case. The court ordered Lawson to submit the records withheld under this exemption to the court under seal within 15 days. While the court did not grant all of the relief that NEDC sought, this is an important step because, as NEDC argued in its motion papers, the Secretary appears to have used this exemption to inappropriately withhold materials.

The court also urged the parties and the Indiana Public Access Counselor (a state official) to “quickly work together” to develop a narrower request (since, the court found, NEDC’s request was broader than appropriate) “because access to public records is an important statutory right.”

Finally, the court rejected the Secretary’s efforts to justify withholding various communications between her office and NASS on the basis of the deliberative materials exemption, the trade secrets exemption, or a purported copyright exemption. The court found that the Secretary had not provided adequate evidence to justify her assertion of the deliberative materials exemption, and furthermore granted NEDC’s motion for partial summary judgment on the legal point that the Secretary cannot assert the copyright and trade secrets exemptions as to these materials.

The Secretary now has 15 days to provide the materials withheld under the terrorism-risk exception to the judge, who will review them in chambers.

Read the full press release and the decision.

Read more about National Election Defense Coalition v. Lawson.

Read more about Free Speech For People’s fight for free and fair elections.