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Oklahoma Watch v. Epic Blended Learning Centers

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  1. Freedom of Information

Case Number: CV-2021-1085

Court: District Court of Oklahoma County, Oklahoma

Clients: Oklahoma Watch, Jennifer Palmer

Petition Filed: May 11, 2021

Background: In July 2020, Oklahoma Watch journalist Jennifer Palmer filed a state Open Records Act request seeking emails sent to and from Epic Charter Schools co-founder Ben Harris.

In response to Palmer’s public records request, the school system proposed charging more than $40,000 in fees to copy the documents. Palmer then narrowed the date range of her request the next month, but school officials still insisted on charging almost $5,000 to fulfill the request — including more than $3,000 in “legal review” costs that have no basis in law and amount to a violation of the Open Records Act.

On behalf of Palmer and Oklahoma Watch, Reporters Committee attorneys sued the school district, arguing that its withholding of the requested records is unlawful; that the news outlet is entitled to the prompt disclosure or inspection of the requested records at little or no cost; and that the school system is breaking the law by demanding legal review payments in response to Open Records Act requests.

Quote: “Epic Charter Schools has provided no legitimate basis to withhold the requested records, and their insistence on demanding fees they are not entitled to under the Open Records Act is particularly concerning,” said KatieBeth Gardner, the Reporters Committee Local Legal Initiative staff attorney in Oklahoma. “A ruling in favor of Oklahoma Watch and Jennifer Palmer would send a clear message that public bodies, including school systems, in Oklahoma cannot shield records from the public by charging exorbitant fees to the journalists and news organizations who request them.”

Filings:

2021-05-11: Petition for relief