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Court allows agency to charge $20 million for public records

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         CONNECTICUT         Freedom of Information         May 18, 2001    

Court allows agency to charge $20 million for public records

  • A Connecticut court determined that the open records request from a newspaper reporter was unreasonable, and therefore, the law did not apply.

A Connecticut trial court let stand a $20 million fee for access to public records because it said the reporter’s request was not “reasonable.”

Jack Dolan, a reporter for The Hartford Courant, requested an electronic copy of all of the fields of information from a Department of Public Safety database of criminal histories. The department told Dolan it would have to delete many of the fields because they contained juvenile criminal information, which is prohibited from public disclosure under state law. Additionally, the department informed Dolan that the fee would total $20,375,000; or 815,000 records at $25 per record.

The department relied on a statute that is not part of the state’s open records laws, which sets the fee for a criminal history record search at $25 per search. The newspaper said that the cost should be much less because the state open records law that governs access to government databases only allows the agency to charge its actual costs in producing the records. The newspaper argued that the court would effectively close access to these records if it allowed the exorbitant fee to stand.

The court said in an April 27 opinion that the request required the agency to “create documents” because the agency would have to write a program that would delete the juvenile criminal records information and would put the information in a format readable by the newspaper’s computers. Because the state open records laws does not require an agency to “create documents,” the court found that the request was not “reasonable” and the state’s open records law requirement that the agency only charge its actual costs for producing the records did not apply. Therefore, the court found that the agency could charge $25 per record under the other state statute.

(The Hartford Courant Company v. Freedom of Information Commission; Media Counsel: Tyler Cooper & Alcorn, LLP, Hartford, Connecticut ) CC

© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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