Collegian retains counsel over records dispute

By David Schick

 

The Collegian has turned to a Suwanee lawyer for help in resolving an Open Records Act dispute with the Board of Regents.

On Oct. 10, Daniel Levitas, an attorney with the law offices of Burdine & Brown, wrote a letter to the Board requesting a fee reduction for the Collegian’s Open Records Act request of July 18, 2012.

“I am writing to you now to explore the possibility of compromise on this matter in the hopes of avoiding litigation, but suffice it to say that we do not believe the University System would be the prevailing party if we brought suit,” wrote Levitas.

Initially, the Board’s charge to fulfill the Collegian’s Open Records Act request came to $2,963.39, which included 16 hours to search and extract the requested data by Information Technology Service system administrators. The Board also sought to charge the Collegian 27 hours by time spent in review by the Chief Audit Officer, Executive Vice Chancellor, and Legal staff members “because of an open investigation.”

The cost was reduced to $1,882.98 after the Board received a letter on Aug. 23 from Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center (SPLC).

LoMonte questioned several of the charges as “excessive” stating, “the quoted figure of $1,610.16 for two ‘system administrators’ to retrieve archived documents, such as emails, plainly is excessive … The costs assessed include pre-production review of the documents by no fewer than three different University System administrators. This is excessive.”

Prior to the July 18 Open Records Act request, the Board provided the Collegian with documents in response to three separate earlier Open Records Act requests entirely free of charge. The three Open Records Act requests resulted in 1,243 pages, which reportedly required 39 hours worth of labor.

The Board’s reduced cost of $1,882.98 included the same charge for two Information Technology Service systems administrators at eight hours each for a total of $1,073.44.

“To attempt to impose fees of $1882.98 now, and to incorporate into that estimate the cost of legal and administrative review not supported anywhere in the Open Records Act statute, seems arbitrary, capricious, and deliberately designed to obstruct access to public information of obvious critical concern,” wrote Levitas.

Using technical specifications provided by the Board, the Collegian sought the formal opinion of a computer expert regarding how long it should reasonably take to fulfill the Collegian’s July 18 Open Records Act request.

That opinion was presented by Levitas to the Board in the form of a sworn affidavit accompanying his letter. The expert attested that it would take “no more than one hour” worth of effort to extract the data.

“The Collegian is willing to pay $100 to USG to obtain the documents request,” wrote Levitas. “I sincerely hope we can arrive at a constructive resolution of this matter.”

Levitas is representing the Collegian on a pro-bono basis as a participating attorney in the SPLC attorney referral network.

As of press time, the Board of Regents was unavailable for comment.

 

Read the full letter from Attorney Dan Levitas here

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