Legislation would allow for more private meetings – Meriden Record-Journal

03/13/16 – By Andrew Ragali

Three decades ago, lawmakers amended a provision in the state’s freedom of information law to prevent public agencies entering executive session to consult with attorneys on general legal matters. A study of the issue at the time found that government agencies were paying attorneys to attend meetings so that the public could be excluded from controversial discussions. [Read More]

Fishbein may reopen case against Wallingford Center Inc. – MyRecordJournal.com

WALLINGFORD — Earlier this month, Town Councilor Craig Fishbein won his Freedom of Information case against Wallingford Center Inc. He is now seeking to re-open the case and have the Freedom of Information Commission impose a fine against WCI.

State statute allows fines of up to $1,000 for “unreasonable refusal to produce records that fall under the Freedom of Information Act,” Fishbein said Monday.

He is asking the commission to impose a fine of not less than $20 and not more than $1,000.

“… (WCI has) not only failed to provide the validity of their denial, but their excuse(s) for non-compliance could best be described as absurd,” Fishbein wrote in a March 25 letter. “It is the very conduct for which the legislature gave this Commission the power to levy a civil penalty. Ultimately, the Commission should never condone the flaunting of the law as the Respondents herein have done, and thus a civil penalty of the highest degree authorized by the legislature is not only warranted, but probably necessary to send a clear message to the Respondents, as well as others tempted to follow a similar path.”

Fishbein filed a complaint with the commission after Wallingford Center Inc. refused to provide him with meeting minutes and agendas.

WCI President Steve Lazarus did not return a call for comment Monday.

Last month, Paula Pearlman, who presided during a January hearing, wrote a proposed decision that said WCI would have to provide Fishbein copies of the minutes he requested, as well as comply with the Freedom of Information Act. The commission voted unanimously to adopt the report at an April 8 meeting.

Pearlman’s report does not mention a fine.

Because the commission already voted, the case is considered closed, said FOI Public Education Officer Tom Hennick.

“I’ve never seen it done, but Attorney Fishbein can send a letter asking to please reconsider,” Hennick said Monday. “That can reopen the case, but I’ve never seen that happen.”

Having WCI pay a civil penalty fee would send a message to other public agencies, Fishbein said Monday.

“The whole reason why it’s there is to prevent others from taking a similar dilatory, obstructionist track in denying the public information that it is entitled to,” he said.

WCI is a nonprofit organization whose purpose is the “beautification, preservation, promotion and economic revitalization of Wallingford’s center,” according to its website. The group is best known for its annual Celebrate Wallingford festival. It receives more than three-quarters of its funding from the town — a total of $84,650 this year. The organization requested $84,000 for the next fiscal year, according to Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr.’s proposed town budget.

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Fee for Connecticut court documents among highest in state – The Associated Press

Gavel legal justice shutterstock_161367830

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Copying public documents in Connecticut courts can be an expensive proposition at $1 a page, a fee set by state law that is double what cities and towns can charge and quadruple the rate collected by state agencies.

While high-priced lawyers may not think twice about the fee, it can be a bank account drainer for the thousands of low-income people who use state courts, especially in civil and family cases where the files can run dozens if not hundreds of pages.

Open records advocates say high fees can be worrisome in terms of the public’s access to government.

“We wouldn’t want the fees to be so high that it discourages access or prevents access,” said Colleen Murphy, executive director and general counsel of the state Freedom of Information Commission. “Providing copies of public records shouldn’t necessarily be a source of revenue for government.”

But that appears to be the case in Connecticut.

The copying fee was increased from 50 cents to $1 a page in 1992 as part of a massive fee increase bill approved by state lawmakers and then-Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. that raised about $15 million during a budget crisis.

And the Judicial Branch doesn’t get to keep any of the $300,000 a year or so that it collects from the fee. The money goes straight into the state’s general fund.

In comparison, state law allows municipalities to charge up to 50 cents a page and state agencies 25 cents a page. Many other states have higher fees for court documents than those for records kept by state and municipal agencies.

“If you look at what it costs commercially to get a copy of something, maybe it’s 1 or 2 cents to copy per page,” Murphy said. “That’s the argument — that it really doesn’t cost that much to produce a paper copy.”

In 1994, two years after the court copying fee was increased, lawmakers and the governor approved a bill that decreased copying costs for state agency records from 50 cents to 25 cents a page, saying copying costs were too high. But they didn’t change the court fees.

Connecticut chief court administrator, Judge Patrick L. Carroll III, said state law does allow judges to waive copying fees, but only for people receiving public assistance or earning 125 percent or less of the federal poverty level — which is $24,250 a year for a family of four.

People can also look at records for free in courthouses, and many documents are available online at no charge.

“We have worked hard over the years to increase access to court documents by making more documents available online,” Carroll said. “Individuals may also bring in a hand held scanner to scan documents, without being charged the copy fee.”

Some of the most expensive copying fees in the state are for transcripts of court proceedings. Court reporters and monitors, who already are on the state payroll, can charge $3 a page for standard requests and up to $6.35 a page for transcripts requested to be ready the next business day after a proceeding.