The Widdershins

What’s it cost for justice?

Posted on: October 1, 2014

cha-chingor shall we ask what does it cost to investigate and have a look-see at, say, police documents, or some emails or records about Michael Brown and his shooting by a Ferguson police officer?  Well apparently in Ferguson Missouri it costs a lot.

Press organizations and others are asking for copies of  public documents, which should be released in compliance with state public records request laws.  And indeed, Missouri does have a public records request law.  It is codified in their Missouri Revised Statues and in their case, Missouri refers to them as Sunshine laws.

Now getting back to Ferguson, it seems that officials there are charging up to 10 times the cost of some of their employees salaries just to do some xeroxing for folks.  After the Associated Press made an inquiry with the state Attorney General, he in turn contacted the city attorney in Ferguson to see what was going on.  Well what is going on is pretty simple:  If you arbitrarily jack up the price of providing copies of again, public records, you then make it difficult for some press organizations and civil rights groups to obtain the funds needed for their requests.

The city has demanded high fees to produce copies of records that, under Missouri law, it could give away free if it determined the material was in the public’s interest to see. Instead, in some cases, the city has demanded high fees with little explanation or cost breakdown.

No explanation needed if the only purpose is to discourage people from requesting such documents.  Now I’m sure our good Prolix can attest to the need to break down costs when he’s been in some legal tangles of one sort of another  Attorneys in their meticulousness will break down the cost of a page of paper that goes into the copier that provides copies, say, in a lawsuit…or so I’ve heard.  😉

As stated in the linked article, the city of Ferguson billed the A.P. $135 an hour :

for nearly a day’s work — merely to retrieve a handful of email accounts since the shooting. That fee compares with an entry-level, hourly salary of $13.90 in the city clerk’s office, and it didn’t include costs to review the emails or release them. The AP has not paid for the search because it has yet to negotiate the cost.

As Rick Blum, who coordinates the Sunshine in Government Initiative, a coalition of media groups that advocates for open government says:  “The first line of defense is to make the requester go away.”  He said charging hefty fees “to simply cut and paste is a popular tactic.”

In another instance:

The Washington Post was told it would need to pay $200 at minimum for its requests, including city officials’ emails since Aug. 9 discussing Brown’s shooting, citizen complaints against Ferguson officers and Wilson’s personnel file. The website Buzzfeed requested in part emails and memos among city officials about Ferguson’s traffic-citation policies and changes to local elections, but was told it would cost unspecified thousands of dollars to fulfill.

When asked about pubic records requests, the city attorney, Stephanie Karr, declined to respond to repeated interview requests from the AP since earlier this month.  And then finally, through a spokesperson,  Karr said Missouri law can require fees but she didn’t address why charges specific to the AP’s request were nearly tenfold the lowest salary in the city clerk’s office. Karr said searching emails for key words constitutes “extra computer programming” that can bring added costs.

This however, was the best or worst excuse I read in the article and I’ll just copy it in here.

In late August, the AP asked Ferguson officials for copies of several police officials’ emails and text messages, including those belonging to Wilson and Chief Thomas Jackson. The AP sought those records to reveal the city’s behind-the-scenes response to the shooting and public protests.

Ferguson told the AP it wanted nearly $2,000 to pay a consulting firm for up to 16 hours of work to retrieve messages on its own email system, a practice that information technology experts call unnecessary. The firm, St. Louis-based Acumen Consulting, wouldn’t comment specifically on Ferguson’s contract, but said the search could be more complicated and require technicians to examine tape backups.

So I really have to ask:  What is it you are trying to hide, city of Ferguson?  Were your actions and responses in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s shooting so bad that you have to cover them up by making them unaffordable to obtain by press and civil rights organizations?  I can assure you those actions and responses will come out eventually.

It’s an open thread so talk amongst yourselves as you wish.

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10 Responses to "What’s it cost for justice?"

I wonder how much insurance companies are charged for police reports? How much would I pay for one? A little investigating would go a long way for these sources.

chat@1: Well, how much would Ferguson charge to answer that question? 😉

I didn’t consider it germane but in the article the writer mentioned something about when Palin was running for veep an organization asked for some records on something with her and they were told it would cost $6000. Ah here:

The Anchorage Press said officials at first wanted $6,500 in search fees, leading the newspaper to withdraw its request. Thousands of pages of those emails were ultimately provided to news organizations for about $725 in copying charges.

Oh my…I forgot to like my own post.

Michael Dunn guilty of first degree murder. Way to go, Jacksonville.

chat, I didn’t even know they had had a 2nd trial. Good for Jax.

Fredster, sorry I missed yesterday. Little buddy was sick and had to take care of him. Good post! How low can this town go? I read somewhere that now there is a problem with the grand jury that was convened there. Good grief.

Glad to see that Dunn idiot get what he deserved. A hung jury the first time!?!? Really?

annie, not to worry. You don’t have to comment on everything. Real life *does* sometimes take precedence. LOL!

i know but we are old friends & i like ti see all your articles!

Awww….thanks!

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