The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press announced Tuesday the launch of the Oklahoma Local Legal Initiative, an ambitious program that expands legal support for local news and is already underway in Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Colorado.
KatieBeth Gardner has joined the Reporters Committee as a Local Legal Initiative attorney based in Oklahoma, where she will provide pro bono legal support to local journalists and news organizations pursuing enterprise and investigative reporting in communities across the state.
"We're glad to welcome KatieBeth to the Reporters Committee as we continue to grow our capacity to help local journalists and news organizations defend their newsgathering rights, access public records and court proceedings, and hold state and tribal government officials accountable," said Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. "Her experience working in both the nonprofit sector and as an attorney advocating for transparency will bolster our ability to serve reporters in Oklahoma through the Local Legal Initiative."
The Reporters Committee received submissions from more than 30 states, regions and territories for the Local Legal Initiative, which was launched in 2019 with an investment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
In just the first year, the Reporters Committee's Local Legal Initiative attorneys have successfully fought to ensure government officials uphold state open meetings laws as they conduct business remotely during the pandemic; safeguard reporters' First Amendment rights to cover protests without being assaulted or arrested by law enforcement; defend journalists against a lawsuit seeking thousands of dollars from them for requesting public records; and protect journalists' reporting at polling places during the election.
"News organizations and journalists across Oklahoma, including journalists who are a part of and covering the dozens of federally recognized tribes in the state, have a clear need for legal assistance," said Katie Townsend, legal director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. "KatieBeth and the Reporters Committee will now be able to better support these journalists and help ensure they can access public information, attend government proceedings, and challenge legal threats that hinder their ability to keep their communities informed."
Gardner joins the Reporters Committee from Still She Rises, the first holistic defense office in the United States dedicated exclusively to the representation of mothers in both the criminal and civil legal systems.
In that role, she used the Oklahoma Open Records Act to promote transparency and hold government actors accountable. Gardner also brings experience working in various roles across the nonprofit sector, including launching a nonprofit organization to help connect Oklahoma's undocumented student population with opportunities for success.
For more information on the Local Legal Initiative, go to rcfp.org/local