Friday, January 8, 2010

Judge vacates ruling that Grady County fee for digital copies of assessments database violates Open Records Act

A judge is giving the Grady County assessor another opportunity to argue that her fee for an electronic copy of a database of all real property assessments complies with the state Open Records Act, The Oklahoman reported Friday.

District Judge Richard Van Dyke on Thursday threw out his previous ruling that the county assessor could no longer charge more than $26 for a digital copy of the database because the direct, reasonable cost of searching for and burning the records onto a CD or DVD is no more than that amount. (Hurlbert v. Firestone,
CJ-08-00790 (Grady Co.))

However, an assistant district attorney argued that the ruling came about only because Grady County Assessor Bari Firestone had not been notified of the lawsuit and, therefore, had not responded. The plaintiff's attorney, Douglas A. Wilson, a board member of FOI Oklahoma Inc., said Firestone and the assistant district attorney had been notified.

Wilson said another hearing will be held.

The lawsuit is one of four filed against Oklahoma county assessors by Roger W. Hurlbert, an FOI Oklahoma Inc. member. Doing business as Sage Information Services in California, Hurlbert filed suit against Muskogee, Osage and Wagoner counties in 2007 and Grady County in 2008.

Hurlbert is challenging the assessors' practice of charging five cents for the first 25,000 records and two cents thereafter.

In each case, the judge ruled that the fee violates the state Open Records Act because it is "not limited to recovering only the reasonable, direct costs of record copying and any necessary record search."

Van Dyck had said Grady County may no longer charge more than $26 for the database.

Judges limited Muskogee, Osage and Wagoner counties to $50 for their databases.

In all four rulings, the judges have said Hurlbert is entitled to his reasonable attorney fees and costs.

For more background on the lawsuits and the relevant law, read these blog postings.

Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
OSU School of Journalism

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