Monday, March 15, 2010

DA Susana Martinez way off base on Inspection of Public Records compliance

Haussamen reports this morning, link, on a tussle between District Attorney Susana Martinez and the Democrat Party. The Dems claim she "hiding" records, though they have actually inspected all of the (tens of thousands of) records they asked to see. The disagreement centers around making the copies they want.

The devil, as usual, is in the details.

In the first place, DA Martinez apparently ordered her records custodian to sit and watch as the records were being inspected. At some point, the watcher is accused of telling the requester, he was "a pain in the ass".

There is no reason for a records custodian to sit and watch an inspection; in particular if they are allowed to harass the requester. If nothing else, it is intimidating. If they are really concerned that a record might be stolen, simply surrender the records in an electronic format; they could scan the document themselves, in less time than it takes to add it to the stack to be inspected, and later re-file it. Simply pull it, scan it, re-file it. It would actually save money. If there is a need to actually handle an original, then move to the more cumbersome process.

If the requester were allowed to scan records, there would no point in stealing one. Yet Martinez chose to disallow scanning or photocopying. According to Haussamen;

"Martinez said her office didn’t allow the party to bring its own scanner or camera because she wanted to ensure the documents were in their entire and true form when they left her office."
This argument is nonsense.

If a requester wants one page of a two page record, does Martinez seriously intend to force them to pay to copy both pages?

If they then, throw the unwanted copy in a trash can,
is she going to make them pick it out and take it anyway?

And, how does a scanner or camera produce an "untrue"
form of a document? If an "untrue" document could be
produced, of what use would it be in comparison with the
"true" document?

The real reason the record holder wants to do the copying, is to make two copies; one for the requester, and one for their lawyer, who will then know which records will be used against his client's interests.

Haussamen reports;
Phil Sisneros, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, said scanners and cameras should be allowed. The public records act, he said, “requires the custodian of public records for a public body to ‘provide reasonable facilities to make or furnish copies of public records during usual business hours.’” “This office’s position is that this provision permits a requester to use his or her own equipment to make copies of public records,” Sisneros said.
Though that position is eminently logical, Martinez argued that the literature, the Attorney General's Compliance Guide, doesn't spell it out exactly enough; she wants a court decision.

Clearly a choice is being made; make it easy for the public
to inspect and copy public records, or, make it difficult.

There is no reason to make it difficult,
except to discourage further requests.

Susana Martinez should reexamine her position.

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