Anyone who knows me knows I am a strong advocate for the use of serial commas. A case currently pending before the Supreme Court of Georgia is yet another example of why legal writers should always use serial commas.
The Georgia Open Records Act contains a provision that exempts records from public access “disclosing an economic development project prior to a binding commitment having been secured, relating to job applicants, or identifying propriety hiring practices….”
The legislature passed the provision specifically to prevent an autoworkers’ union from obtaining access to certain training materials. The union, however, is claiming the language should be read to permit access to training and applicant records once the state secures a binding commitment (essentially reading out the comma before "or").
The state (I believe correctly) argues the statute creates three categories of exempt records: (1) those disclosing an economic development project prior to a binding commitment; (2) those relating to job applicants; and (3) those identifying proprietary hiring practices, training, skills, or other business practices. This reading protects the applicant information and hiring and training materials from disclosure even after a binding commitment has been secured.
As Chief Justice Nahmias recognized at oral argument in the case, the two-category reading of the Act proposed by the union would defy all accepted rules of grammar and essentially mean the legislature and the governor didn’t know or understand the rules of grammar when they passed and signed the law.
Oral argument was held on June 17, 2013, so a written opinion won’t be issued for several months. The case is Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia Inc. v. Coleman. An article about the case can be found here.