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First Amendment Clinic wins Supreme Court case, allowing journalists to qualify as researchers eligible to obtain ADES protection records.

The Arizona Supreme Court decided today that journalists can be engaged in the type of “bona fide research” that would allow them to see if a state health agency is protecting vulnerable adults under its care.

Students from the First Amendment Clinic represented journalist Amy Silverman, who has been researching whether the protective services division of the Arizona Department of Economic Security is adequately responding to abuse allegations. The records are confidential, but state law provides an exception for those engaged in “bona fide research” to obtain the records as long as all personally identifying information is redacted.

“This is an important win for our client and for all journalists,” said First Amendment Clinic Director Gregg Leslie. “Agencies are too quick to undervalue the work that investigative journalists do, and the Court has recognized that a statute that allows public access to information so agencies can be held accountable for their work also allows journalists to examine those agency actions.”

ADES said that journalists did not qualify for that exception, which should only apply to researchers who are assisting the agency. But the high court disagreed, pointing out that “interpreting the statute as categorically excluding journalists would raise serious freedom of speech and equal protection concerns.”

The case must now go back to the trial court to apply the new test and to consider other ADES objections to the scope of the request.