Probe Into Job Corps Violence May Come Out

     (CN) – A teacher who reported “work place violence” at one of the U.S. Forest Service’s Job Corps sites is entitled to information about the agency’s investigation, the 9th Circuit ruled Tuesday.
     Fearing for himself and the disadvantaged youth he taught at the Trapper Creek Center in Darby, Mont., Mark Kowack said he reported “work place violence, threatening remarks and a negative work place culture” in 2008.
     The agency took no action, however, after investigating the claims and interviewing Kowack and other employees.
     After Kowack asked the U.S. Forest Service to release its investigation report under the Freedom of Information Act, the agency initially held back 80 pages of the 173-page report for privacy reasons. Kowack’s administrative appeal then won him 188 pages of documents, though many were heavily redacted.
     He challenged the redactions in a federal FOIA complaint, but U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula declined to inspect the documents in chambers.
     The Forest Service eventually won summary judgment by describing each document and justifying that paper’s withholding in a Vaughn index, named for the 1973 FOIA case Vaughn v. Rosen.
     Finding the agency’s index too “vague” to pass, a three-judge appellate panel reversed on Tuesday.
     “Because the district court didn’t conduct an in camera review, we have only [an agency official’s] description of the withheld documents, as contained in her Vaughn index declaration, but this description is too vague to allow us to weigh either the privacy or the public interests at stake,” Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote for the panel.
     The unanimous panel sent the case back to Missoula and ordered the government to produce a “more detailed” index of two categories of documents sought by Kowack -a “statements made to the investigator by employees other than Kowack,” and “administrative documents and reports created by the investigator.”

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