Appeals and Lawsuits under Oregon’s Public Records Law
When the requester and public body cannot agree on (a) disclosure of Public Records, (b) costs to disclose or (c) who should pay the costs, requesters have the right to appeal. Usually, the appeals are to the Attorney General when seeking state records and to the local district attorney when seeking county, city or local records. However, if the dispute is with an elected official, then requesters must sue the elected official in circuit court.
Appeal to Attorney General or District Attorney
Oregon statutes set forth the process at ORS 192.407 to 192.431.
Here’s the form to appeal state agency decisions to Attorney General.
To appeal city and local government decisions to district attorneys, check online with the local district attorney or use the following format:
I (we), ____________(name(s)), the undersigned, request the District Attorney of ______ County to order ______ (name of governmental body) and its employees to (make available for inspection) (produce a copy or copies of) the following records:
1.____________________(Name or description of record)
2.____________________(Name or description of record)
I (we) asked to inspect and/or copy these records on ______ (date) at ______ (address). The request was denied by the following person(s):
1.____________________ (Name of public officer or employee and title or position, if known)
2.____________________ (Name of public officer or employee and title or position, if known)
______________________ (Your Signature(s))
The Attorney General and district attorneys must act within seven days. If they do not grant the petition or rule on costs within seven days, the requester may file a lawsuit in circuit court. The seven-day deadline applies even when a district attorney refuses to act because the DA thinks public body never actually denied the request.
What if the Attorney General or district attorney rules against the public body? The public body may appeal by filing a lawsuit against the requester, an option which has caused consternation when it results in a public body suing, for example, a mom seeking records from a school. (Perhaps this is an area for law reform: allow a public body to appeal to court without suing a citizen-requester but permitting the requester to defend if he or she wants to.)
Appeal to Circuit Court
Public Records Law cases are a priority in the circuit court. They take precedence on the docket over most other matters, according to ORS 192.431(2). The judge takes a fresh look at the arguments and may review records privately to decide if they should be disclosed publicly. The “burden of proof” is on the public body to convince the judge it was right. If the requester wins, the court shall award the requester attorney fees and costs. Either party may appeal the trial court’s decision to the Court of Appeals.
As with any dispute, one should consider engaging an attorney. I know public records law. Under some circumstances, I will accept cases under a contingent fee contract.
Jeff Merrick, Oregon Litigation Attorney
©2018 by Merrick Law, LLC and Jeff Merrick. The above is not intended as legal advice. It is for general information purposes only. Reading it or attempting to contact me does not mean I am your attorney. I only represent people after we sign a written contract.