The NFOIC has signed on to a friend of the court brief prepared by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press that challenges the City of Baltimore’s refusal to grant a fee waiver in a case where the original estimate was for more than a million dollars.
The case arises out of Maryland Public Information Act requests by Open Justice Baltimore (“OJB”) to the Baltimore Police Department (“BPD”) for access to internal investigation records of law enforcement officers. After OJB filed suit in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, BPD agreed to disclose a subset of the records but demanded over one million dollars in prepayment for costs—a fee it later reduced to $245,123. BPD denied OJB’s fee waiver requests, in part, because it concluded that the “materials sought would not likely contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations” of BPD. The Court of Special Appeals found that BPD’s denial of the fee waiver requests was arbitrary and capricious and that BPD failed to meaningfully consider the way in which disclosure may aid the public’s understanding of how BPD addresses allegations of police misconduct. BPD sought, and was granted, review of the decision by the Maryland Court of Appeals.
The amicus brief emphasizes the importance of safeguarding members of the public and the news media against arbitrary and capricious fee waiver denials under the MPIA. The brief explains how BPD’s arguments, if accepted, would threaten the ability of the news media to pursue access to public records in Maryland—a result that runs counter to public policy and legislative intent. Finally, the brief highlights examples of news reporting from around the country that has relied on information in public records to uncover trends in police misconduct, shed light on important oversight issues, and help spur meaningful reforms.
Not all states have a fee waiver mechanism in their state law the way Maryland and the federal FOIA do.