Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters must release the names of concealed handgun licensees from 2006 and 2007 to the Mail Tribune, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday.
A three-justice panel of the appeals court upheld a Jackson County Circuit Court ruling that determined Winters had no right to deny a Mail Tribune request for copies of concealed handgun licenses because the licenses are public records.
To read the Oregon Court of Appeals ruling, visit www.mailtribune.com/handgunruling.
"For us, this was more of a public records issue," said Mail Tribune Editor Bob Hunter. "We've said all along exemptions to public records law ought to be made by the Legislature, not by elected officials. This is the second judicial body that has ruled this way, so obviously, we are pleased this is the outcome."
The sheriff declined to comment on the ruling Wednesday. He has 14 days to request the appeals court to reconsider its decision, which would involve deliberation by a full 10-justice panel, or he may appeal directly to the Oregon Supreme Court within 35 days, said Phil Lemman, Oregon Judicial Department spokesman.
Winters had argued concealed handgun licenses are security measures exempt from mandatory disclosure and releasing names would unreasonably invade the personal privacy of licensees.
The appeals court concluded the sheriff made a blanket decision not to release any of the licenses and failed to meet the requirement of the law that exemptions have to be proven on an individual basis and with sufficient justification.
"The burden would certainly be on the sheriff going forward to prove a license isn't a public record," Hunter said.
The Mail Tribune requested the list as part of its reporting on a lawsuit by Shirley Katz, a South Medford High School teacher who challenged the Medford School District's policy restricting employees from bringing weapons on campus.
The newspaper requested a list of concealed handgun licensees to count how many license holders were teachers who could potentially carry guns to school. Katz's lawsuit was ultimately dismissed. The appeals court ruled last November that school districts have the right to prohibit employees from carrying weapons on campus. Katz did not appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court.
The paper does not intend on publishing the licensees' names, Hunter said.
Under state law, the sheriff is required to pay for the newspaper's legal expenses related to the case. That amount was not available Wednesday.
Since the newspaper filed the lawsuit in October 2007, the sheriff has changed the concealed handgun license application to include an optional confidentiality request in which applicants state whether they are seeking a license as a personal safety measure and whether they want their information to be kept confidential.
It is unclear whether a confidentiality request is enough to exempt a handgun license from public disclosure.
Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.