What is a “Public Record” in Oregon?

Oregon law requires “Public Bodies” to disclose “Public Records.”  State law defines both of those terms. ORS 192.311(4) & (5).

“Public body” is very broad.  It covers “every state officer, agency, department, division, bureau, board and commission; every county and city governing body, school district, special district, municipal corporation, and any board, department, commission, council, or agency thereof; and any other public agency of this state.”

Elected officials, too, must produce public records.

“Public record” includes any writing that contains information relating to the conduct of the public’s business, prepared, owned, used or retained by a public body regardless of physical form or characteristics.  That’s a very broad definition because of the word “retained.”  If a public body has it, then it is a public record, generally.

What about photographs, recordings, and electronic data?

Public bodies must disclose any “writing,” which is defined to include photographs, sounds, symbols and “every means of recording” including “electronic recording.”  ORS 192.311(7).

It is hard for statutes to keep pace with advances in electronic data creation and management.  However, the Secretary of State issued standards for electronic records in Oregon Administrative Rules Chapter 166, Division 17 and Division 20 and the Chief Data Officer will establish more guidelines.

When conflicts arise between a requester of records and a public body, infrequently is the question, “Is it a public record?”  More often, the dispute is over (a) whether the public body should withhold a public record because of an exception to the rule of disclosure, (b) the cost of the producing the records or (c) who should pay the costs.

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.

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