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Friday, September 25, 2009

Recalcitrant Officials Stymie Public Records Requests in Massachusetts

The Boston Globe brings us this story of the frustrations of dealing with obfuscatory officials who evade public records laws by charging exorbitant fees or by unreasonable delay.

Here is an excerpt, showing how the state's laws make it easy it is for Massachusetts officials to evade the open records laws:

Jon Albano, a First Amendment lawyer with Bingham McCutchen who frequently represents the Globe in battles for public records, said the lack of an enforcement mechanism in Massachusetts allows officials to virtually ignore Galvin’s demands.

“They don’t have to comply with his orders, so they treat them like advisory opinions,’’ Albano said. “Across the state, government officials really and truly do not take the public records law as seriously as they take their other responsibilities.’’

Albano said enforcement of the law would be enhanced by a streamlined process for hearing public records disputes in the courts.

Indeed, with no power to fine or otherwise discipline uncooperative officials, Galvin must rely on the attorney general’s office, which is often reluctant to take action against state agencies in public records cases, perhaps because the office represents those same agencies in other legal matters.

And if the attorney general declines to act, those stymied in their request for public records must rely on the courts, where the cost of filing a lawsuit may be prohibitive and the time it takes to obtain a decision may render the value of the information moot.

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