Manookian evokes “basic high school civics” in requesting information.
Photo: The Cordell Hull Legislative Building. Photo Credit: John Partipilo
By Sam Stockard [Tennessee Lookout -CC BY-NC-ND 4.0] –
A Nashville man seeking records in a former lawmaker’s sexual harassment case says it’s “basic high school civics” that the Office of Legislative Administration is separate from the House of Representatives and falls under the state’s Public Records Act.
Brian Manookian, a suspended Nashville attorney representing himself, responded Monday to the state’s argument that Legislative Administration is part of the House and, therefore, doesn’t have to comply with open records rules in the case surrounding resigned state Rep. Scotty Campbell of East Tennessee.
In his filing, Manookian points out the Office of Legislative Administration and director Connie Ridley “are assuredly not ‘the House,’ nor are they a ‘co-equal branch of government’ to this Court as they assert.”
Instead, the office is a “run-of-the-mill” government agency created by state law and staffed by state employees whose activities lie within the language the Legislature drafted in the Tennessee Public Records Act, Manookian says in his filing.
Attorneys for the Office of Legislative Administration also claimed in a filing last week that a court order to turn over the information would violate the separation of government powers.
Manookian is seeking a wide range of records dealing with the use of taxpayer funds to relocate the 19-year-old harassment victim from her apartment to a hotel and to move her belongings home. The state reportedly spent nearly $9,000 to move her out of the apartment building near the Cordell Hull Building, including giving her cash to cover the deposit.
Campbell resigned from his House seat in late April, just hours after NewsChannel5 reported a House subcommittee found he violated rules by harassing a 19-year-old intern.
Besides financial records, Manookian sought documentation related to all sexual harassment investigations from 2021 to 2023, in addition to the calendars of House Speaker Cameron Sexton, Rep. Jeremy Faison and House Ethics Counsel Doug Himes.
The state’s claim that the Office of Legislative Administration is a “co-equal branch of government” with the court and isn’t subject to his request “is facially and profoundly wrong,” Manookian’s filing says.
“As a statutorily-created government agency, OLA provides services to the House, no doubt. But this fact does not make the OLA the House,” Manookian’s filing says.
The “fact” that the office is not “the House” is “basic high school civics level Government 101,” the filing adds, similar to the Office of Legal Services and Office of Program Evaluation. But the Legislature didn’t provide exceptions to the Office of Legislative Administration.
Manookian further contends there is no statute or provision of law exempting the office from the public records law.
The filing notes the House policy is not a state law, and it points out the request for information does not affect confidentiality for those involved in the harassment investigation.
“The secret use of taxpayer funds under such circumstances and in such a manner can charitably be described as unusual and less charitably be described as a cover-up,” the filing says.
Attorneys with the Nashville law firm Sherrard Roe Voigt Harbison are representing the state in the case.
About the Author: Sam Stockard is a veteran Tennessee reporter and editor, having written for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, where he served as lead editor when the paper won an award for being the state’s best Sunday newspaper two years in a row. He has led the Capitol Hill bureau for The Daily Memphian. His awards include Best Single Editorial from the Tennessee Press Association. Follow Stockard on Twitter @StockardSam