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I can’t speak from experience in dealing with state agencies on public record requests, but I can speak from experience as a public lawyer who has handled quite a few public record requests for local governments.
Public record requests of Oregon local governments were mentioned only in passing and not well explained. The AG has no role in reviewing public record requests for local public bodies. When a local government claims that a record or part of a record is exempt from disclosure under the law, the requestor may seek review by the local DA. If the DA upholds the exemption, or if the DA directs that the record be released and the local agency still refuses, the person seeking the record may file a suit in the circuit court. In my experience, such court challenges are rare, even though a person who is successful can recover attorney fees and costs in the lawsuit.
The 2005 Legislature changed the law to require that the custodian of the records must, among other things, “respond as soon as practicable and without unreasonable delay,” although that response may initially be to confirm that the records exist and give an estimate of the time and fees required to make them available. There are very good reasons for this. It strikes a balance the legislature thought fair between the requestor’s interest in getting prompt access and the public body’s interest in avoiding undue hardship and expense. In my experience, most requests are handled promptly and without hassle. There are, however, a small number of requests that seek a large volume of documents, require extensive effort to gather from various departments and officials, or seek documents that must be reviewed to redact sensitive material exempt from disclosure under the law.
Oregon’s public records law represents a constant process of revision. Since 1973, ORS 192.440 (the procedure for getting access to public records) has been amended six times, most recently in 2007. The statutes creating exemptions from public disclosure (ORS 192.501 and 192.502) have been amended in every regular session except 1997. I have no doubt that process will continue as Oregonians fine-tune the tension between the public interest in knowing how government is doing public business, and the need for government to do that business efficiently and economically.
posted 3 years, 5 months ago
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