GULFPORT, Mississippi — Harrison County Chancery Judge Jennifer Schloegel has ruled the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources is unable to give a Gulf Coast newspaper records now in the possession of the state auditor's office.
The Sun Herald (http://bit.ly/14OyOJG ) had sued for documents under Mississippi's Public Records Law.
MDMR officials told Schloegel that financial documents sought by the newspaper were turned over to the auditor's office in January.
Schloegel said Tuesday the newspaper would need to add the state auditor's office as a defendant in the case.
The MDMR is under state and federal investigations for its spending practices. The agency's governing board fired executive director Bill Walker in January. He has been replaced by Jamie Miller.
The Sun Herald is seeking records of the agency's Katrina Relief account in November and its Rigs to Reefs account in late December. The auditor's office subpoenaed the same records in early January, about the same time the newspaper asked to pick up the records.
Chris Lott, a special agent with the auditor's office, told the judge the records were kept in 38 boxes and two file cabinets at the auditor's office on the first floor of the Bolton Building in Biloxi. The MDMR offices are in the same building.
Lott, who is assigned to the investigation, said some of the records have since been forwarded to offices in Hattiesburg, Laurel and Jackson.
"We have such a multi-faceted investigation going on," Lott said. "We have investigators throughout the state assisting."
MDMR officials said they gave the newspaper about 22,000 pages of records on computer disk, but said the remaining records were only in paper format in the auditor's possession.
The newspaper reported MDMR had agreed to facilitate a review of the paper records by its reporters, but the auditors never gave the DMR access to them.
Information from: The Sun Herald, http://www.sunherald.com