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The right of the private citizenry to make a public record request has, at least until recently, required local and federal governments to maintain a certain level of transparency. But a disturbing new trend has private citizens and even journalists flummoxed.
In Louisiana, Michigan, Kentucky, and Oregon, individuals requesting public records have been sued by the agencies whose documents they requested. This new lawfare front has successfully kept public records out of the hands of requestors and made others think twice before making FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests.
Associated - Press - Reports
The Associated Press reports:
Government bodies are increasingly turning the tables on citizens who seek public records that might be embarrassing or legally sensitive. Instead of granting or denying their requests, a growing number of school districts, municipalities and state agencies have filed lawsuits against people making the requests — taxpayers, government watchdogs and journalists who must then pursue the records in court at their own expense.
Lawsuits - Judges - Records - Requesters - Defendants
The lawsuits generally ask judges to rule that the records being sought do not have to be divulged. They name the requesters as defendants but do not seek damage awards. Still, the recent trend has alarmed freedom-of-information advocates, who say it’s becoming a new way for governments to hide information, delay disclosure and intimidate critics.
“This practice essentially says to a records requester, ‘File a request at your peril,’” said University of Kansas journalism professor Jonathan Peters, who wrote about the issue for the Columbia Journalism Review in 2015, before several more cases were filed. “These lawsuits are an absurd practice and noxious to open government.”
Government - Officials - Insist - Faith - Courts
Government officials who have employed the tactic insist they are acting in good faith. They say it’s best to have courts determine whether records should be released when legal obligations are unclear — for instance, when the documents may be shielded by an exemption...
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