EastValleyTribune.com is reporting on an Arizona Court of Appeals ruling, favoring faster responses on the part of state and local governments to public records requests.
The Arizona Court of Appeals ruled unanimously on Tuesday that government departments cannot make people wait for weeks or months for public records that have been requested.
The public records ruling states in part that government records custodians “shall promptly furnish such copies, photographs or printouts.” The ruling goes further by saying that any public records request that is not handled promptly is deemed to have been denied.
The ruling did not specify a time for “promptly”. However, Justice Murray Snow stated that there is no way that a delay of more than 100 days, as happened in a case involving the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, can be considered reasonable.
The ruling acknowledged that delays have to be judged on a case-by-case basis. However, the justices also concluded that public agencies can’t avoid their legal duties for prompt responses simply because a government employee neglected to honor the request.
The public records legal case involves a number of requests made by New Times for sheriff records. These ranged from personnel records to investigation reports about Dan Saban — at the time of the request, Dan Saban was running against incumbent Sheriff Joe Arpaio — on sexual misconduct charges.
The records requests took over 143 days to handle, after the election was over.
The court ruled that this was not a “prompt” handling of the request under Arizona’s public records laws.
The ruling, however, does not end the legal battle. The judges sent the case back to the trial judge to decide if the delays were in bad faith or were arbitrary and capricious. These legal standards will determine if the county is obligated to pay the legal fees for the newspaper.