CALAWARE SUES, CLAIMS OVERCHARGES ON PUBLIC RECORDS COPIES

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Watchdog group says state law does not allow charges above 10 cents a page

December 13, 2010 (Martinez, California)– In a case that could have wide repercussions for members of the public and media outlets seeking public records from public agencies in California,, today Californians Aware (CalAware) filed a lawsuit in superior court, seeking an order to bar Contra Costa Community College District from continuing to violate the California Public Records Act (CPRA).

 

The district has been charging fees for copies of district records that are substantially above the "direct cost of duplication"--the maximum allowed by law, said CalAware general counsel Terry Francke.

 

CalAware, the non-profit Center for Public Forum Rights, recently discovered that the district’s records policy allows it to charge copy requesters 25¢ per page, plus $40 per hour for staff time in compiling the records. When CalAware received a bill of $80 for 80 pages it had requested, the bill included $60 for 1½ hours of staff time.

 

When faced with CalAware’s complaint that the fee was too high, Vice Chancellor Kindred Murillo refused to reduce it, replying that the fee was fixed by district “business procedure.”

 

But case law interpreting the CPRA has concluded that the recoverable "direct cost of duplication" is “the cost of running the copy machine, and conceivably also the expense of the person operating it, but does not include the ancillary tasks necessarily associated with the retrieval, inspection and handling of the file from which the copy is extracted.” (North County Parents Organization v. Dept. of Education (1994) 23 Cal.App.4th 144, 148.)

 

Also, in creating its own “Guidelines for Access to Public Records,” the California Attorney General’s Office determined that the Department of Justice’s direct cost of duplication was 10¢ per page, which, the department concluded, must “not include the staff person’s time in researching, retrieving, redacting and mailing the record.”

 

Richard McKee, CalAware's Vice President/Open Government Compliance, said, "Excessively high copy fees such as those charged by this district serve to discourage requests for public records, contrary to the legislature’s declaration that 'access to information concerning the conduct of the people's business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in the state.'"

 

Some other government agencies have also been charging exorbitant fees. East County Magazine was recently assessed 50 cents a page to duplicate records at an Orange County courthouse on a case involving a local candidate.

 

If you are aware of public agencies in San Diego County that are charging more than 10 cents per page for copies of public records, please post comments here or email editor@eastcountymagazine.org.