Posted on

Lawsuit Clears Up Access For Reporters


A Helena judge has ordered that the state Public Service Commission cannot charge fees to conduct legal reviews on documents produced as part of public records requests. The decision came after a lawsuit regarding a request for public information was made last year by a reporter for The Billings Gazette. The newspaper sued the PSC objecting to the charging of legal fees.

According to the Gazette, the reporter asked for records from the PSC, which oversees utilities in the state. Three months after the request, the agency told the reporter it would need a pre-payment of $31,000 to conduct a legal review before it could disclose anything. The company argued that a legal review done by a government agency was not a proper cost that could be charged under state law.

David McCumber, local news director for Lee Enterprises’ news organizations in the western United States, released a statement: “The court agreed with Lee Montana Newspapers that state agencies’ charging onerous fees for legal review of public documents is not supported by our Constitution, and that the right to access public records should not be conditional on an ability to pay such fees,” said McCumber. He added, “This is a huge victory for transparency in government and for the public’s right to know.”

The PSC had argued the legal review was an “actual cost directly incident to fulfilling the request” and that the agency had to spend real resources by paying someone to do the review.

The Gazette had also asked for the judge to block the charging of hold notice fees, but the ruling found that to be part of the actual cost of filling a request and said could still be charged.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *