Friday, February 1, 2013

Judge Rules Against Coos Bay in Documents Case

A Coos County Circuit Court judge has issued a ruling against the Port of Coos Bay in a public records fee case against the Sierra Club. Judge Paula Bechtold ruled Jan. 25 that the port violated both the law and the Sierra Club’s constitutional rights by failing to grant the group a multi-thousand dollar fee waiver.

The issue before the court was whether the port or the Sierra Club should pay the costs of a far-reaching records request by the environmental group. In this case, Judge Bechtold ruled that the port must waive the fees and bear the costs of responding to the request and that the port violated the Sierra Club’s constitutional rights by requesting documentation to support the group’s claims that granting it a fee waiver was in the public interest.

Oregon law allows public agencies to charge reasonable fees for making public records available upon request, specifically stating that the port’s fees may include “the cost of time spent by an attorney for the public body in reviewing the public records, redacting material from the public records or segregating the public records into exempt and nonexempt records.”

The bulk of the estimated fee quoted to the Sierra Club was for the expected costs associated with legal review, redaction and segregation of records.

“I am particularly troubled by the court’s finding that the port’s handling of this matter somehow violated the Constitution,” port CEO David Koch said in a statement after the judge’s ruling. “That was certainly not the port’s intention, and we are committed to reviewing the port’s public records policies and procedures with outside legal counsel and forwarding any recommended changes to the Port Commission.”