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Editorial re Hartford, CT's $300 appeal of PLN's winning FOIA case on $27.50 fee

Hartford Courant, Jan. 1, 2009.
Editorial re Hartford, CT's $300 appeal of PLN's winning FOIA case on $27.50 fee - Hartford Courant 2009

City Hall's Bad Attitude


Again, showing unhealthy animus to open government, records

December 1, 2009
Hartford Courant

Here's another example — however small — of the city of Hartford's contempt for freedom-of-information requirements designed to safeguard citizens' rights to transparent government.

Earlier this year, a Seattle-based organization, Prison Legal News, requested copies of a lawsuit and verdict involving the city of Hartford, and requested that the city waive the $27.50 fee for the copies. The city refused to waive the fee, and the news organization filed a complaint with the state Freedom of Information Commission.

In September, the FOI commission ruled that Hartford "had no objective, fair or reasonable basis for denying the complainants' fee waiver" and ordered that the documents be turned over for free.

Refusing to forgo the $27.50, the city in November filed an appeal at the Superior Court in New Britain. Court officials say the cost of the filing was $300.

"This gives new meaning to 'penny-wise and pound-foolish,'" said Paul Wright, the editor of Prison Legal News. "The city of Hartford is spending far more money, resources and staff time in its attempt to use fees to deny media access to government records. This is a financial defeat for Hartford taxpayers, whose city attorney refused to simply fax documents by claiming his office was not required to do so."

The amount of money in this case might be small, but the city's mindset against open government principles continues to be troubling. This city hall, after all, has spent roughly $100,000 in legal fees since March 2008 defending against secrecy complaints filed with the FOI commission by The Courant. The commission ruled against Hartford each time.