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Baltimore Police Department v. Open Justice Baltimore

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  1. Freedom of Information

Court: Maryland Court of Appeals

Date Filed: Dec. 2, 2022

Updates: The Maryland Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s ruling relating to the fee waiver denial. The Baltimore Police Department then appealed to the Maryland Supreme Court, which affirmed the ruling of the intermediate appellate court, concluding that the denial of the fee waiver under the Maryland Public Information Act was arbitrary and capricious.

Background: Starting in December 2019, Open Justice Baltimore filed Maryland Public Information Act requests with the Baltimore Police Department for access to internal investigation records of law enforcement officers. The nonprofit organization, which develops open source data projects to increase government transparency, sued the police department after it failed to produce the requested records.

The police department eventually agreed to turn over a subset of the requested documents but demanded more than $1.4 million dollars in prepayment for costs — a fee it later reduced to more than $245,000.

Police officials denied Open Justice Baltimore’s fee-waiver requests, in part, because they concluded that the “materials sought would not likely contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations” of the police department. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals found that the police department’s denial of the fee-waiver requests was arbitrary and capricious and that the department failed to meaningfully consider the way in which disclosure may aid the public’s understanding of how it addresses allegations of police misconduct.

The police department appealed to the Maryland Court of Appeals, which agreed to hear the case.

Our Position: The court should affirm the holding of the Court of Special Appeals that the Baltimore Police Department’s denial of Open Justice Baltimore’s fee-waiver requests was arbitrary and capricious.

  • Fee waivers play an important role in ensuring that journalists and other requesters are able to pursue access to government records for the benefit of the public.
  • The Baltimore Police Department’s arguments are contrary to the legislative purpose of the Maryland Public Information Act and, if accepted, would threaten news reporting on matters of public concern.

Quote: “In a period when newsrooms are facing increasing financial constraints, news media organizations — and particularly small, local news organizations — may be unable to pay six- or seven-figure fees to obtain access to public records, or to pursue litigation to challenge arbitrary and capricious fee-waiver denials. BPD’s arguments, if accepted, would threaten the ability of members of the news media — and of civil society organizations like OJB — to pursue access to public records in Maryland and to inform Marylanders about matters of significant public concern.”

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