Governments Turn Tables by Suing Public Records Requesters
Key Excerpts from Article on Website of New York Times
Posted: September 24th, 2017
An Oregon parent wanted details about school employees getting paid to stay home. College journalists in Kentucky requested documents about the investigations of employees accused of sexual misconduct. Instead, they got something else: sued by the agencies they had asked for public records. 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. The lawsuits generally ask judges to rule that the records being sought do not have to be divulged, [and] name the requesters as defendants. 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. At least two recent cases have succeeded in blocking information while many others have only delayed the release. Even if agencies are ultimately required to make the records public, they typically will not have to pay the other side's legal bills. "You can lose even when you win," said Mike Deshotels, an education watchdog who was sued by the Louisiana Department of Education after filing requests for school district enrollment data last year.