The Wyoming Supreme Court has ruled that government agencies can charge media organizations and individuals for certain costs associated with producing electronic public records.
The suit arose after the Wyoming Tribune Eagle submitted a public records request to Laramie County School District Number One asking for emails sent and received by school board members. The school district compiled the emails onto a disc, but then said the paper would have to pay $110 for the cost of labor. The Wyoming Supreme Court affirmed in a three-to-two decision that the school district was justified in asking for this fee.
Attorney Bruce Moats represented the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. He said allowing government agencies to charge for labor costs in public records requests could have a chilling effect on both journalism and citizens requesting information.
“It creates an impediment to access of those documents that are indisputably public,” Moats said.
The court ruled that the costs must be reasonable, but Moats says it would likely take another court case to determine what constitutes “reasonable fees,” and taking on court costs would be even more challenging.
“That is just outside of the ability of almost all individual citizens to do and becomes quite expensive for media organizations.”
But Moats said ultimately it will be up to local governments and individual agencies to decide how much, or even if, they will charge for associated labor costs.
“I hear all the time local officials say they favor transparency and they understand the need for public information. So they can be reasonable in their charges, and this is a real test about whether they really believe in that or not.”