Filing such a lawsuit is never done lightly--it is both costly and time-consuming. Unfortunately, however, it is the only choice that a citizen has when denied access to public documents.
Of course, a lot of people decide to simply walk away from the situation when a government official says "no" to their public document request.
And government officials love that response.
On the other hand, government officials hate it when a citizen has the nerve to assert his/her rights and actually file a petition in court for access to public documents as provided by the law.
In my situation, I requested building program documents from the Hamblen County School Board (e.g. letters, contracts, bidding tabulations, and later the legal billings from the Board's attorney Scott Reams).
It was when I saw Reams' billings that I realized that there were a lot of building program documents that I didn't even know about. These documents were apparently being kept at his office and nowhere else.
I prepared a request for some of the building program documents kept only in his office, and that's when the Board and Reams drew a line in the sand.
Mr. Reams sent me a letter (with a copy to the Board) saying that I would have to pay him $100/hour to retrieve and review the building program documents that were being kept in his files and to redact (mark out) any confidential student or teacher information from his billings.
Well, I never wanted to see any student/teacher confidential information anyway, so redacting that information, which the law permits and which should be done, was fine with me.
What was not fine was Reams' demand for direct payment to him of $100/hour for this.
Frankly, charging a citizen $100/hour for a government document request of this nature is, in my opinion, exorbitant and outrageous.
With a charge of $100/hour, the Board and Reams might as well have said, "You just can't see it. And to make sure of that, the Board's attorney is going to charge you so much that it will make it impossible for you or anyone else to pursue requests for the building program documents that are stashed in the attorney's office."
By the way, Reams was charging the Board $80/hour at this time, but, as his letter states, he was requiring that citizens pay him $100/hour for retrieval and review of the school building documents that were in his exclusive possession as attorney for the Board.
More in future posts...