June 25, 2017

SB 17-040: Modifying Procedures for Public Access to Government Files

On January 11, 2017, Sen. John Kefalas and Rep. Dan Pabon introduced SB 17-040, “Concerning Public Access to Files Maintained by Governmental Bodies.”

Section 2 of the bill modifies the ‘Colorado Open Records Act’ (CORA) by creating new procedures governing the inspection of public records that are stored as structured data.

Section 1 defines key terms including ‘structured data’, which the bill defines as digital data that is stored in a fixed field within a record or file that is capable of being automatically read, processed, or manipulated by a computer.

If public records are stored as structured data, section 2 requires the custodian of the public records to provide an accurate copy of the public records in a structured data format when requested. If public records are not stored as structured data but are stored in an electronic or digital form and are searchable in their native format, the custodian is required to provide a copy of the public records in a format that is searchable when requested.

Section 2 specifies the circumstances that exempt the custodian from having to produce records in a searchable or structured data format.

If a custodian is not able to comply with a request to produce public records in a requested format, the custodian is required to produce the records in an alternate format and to provide a written declaration attesting to the reasons the custodian is not able to produce the records in the requested format. If a court subsequently rules the custodian should have provided the data in the requested format but that the custodian reasonably believed, based upon the reasons stated in the written declaration, that the data could not be produced in the requested format, attorney fees may be awarded only if the custodian’s action was arbitrary or capricious.

Nothing in the bill requires a custodian to produce records in their native format.

Section 3 expands the grounds permitting the filing of a civil action seeking inspection of a public record to include an allegation of a violation of the digital format provisions in the bill or a violation of record transmission provisions specified in CORA. This section also specifies that altering an existing record, or excising fields of information, to remove information that the custodian is required or allowed to withhold does not constitute the creation of a new public record. Such alteration or excision may be subject to a research and retrieval fee or a fee for the programming of data as allowed under existing provisions of CORA.

Section 4 modifies CORA provisions governing the copy, printout, or photograph of a public record and the imposition of a research and retrieval fee. Among these modifications:

  • The bill deletes existing statutory language permitting the custodian to charge the same fee for services rendered in supervising the copying, printing out, or photographing of a public record as the custodian may charge for furnishing a copy, printout, or photograph;
  • The bill replaces a reference in the statute to the phrase ‘manipulation of data’ with the phrase ‘programming, coding, or custom search queries so as to convert a record into a structured data or searchable format’;
  • In connection with determining the amount of the fee for a paper or electronic copy of a public record, the bill specifies that, if a custodian performs programming, coding, or custom search queries to create a public record, the fee for a paper or electronic copy of that record may be based on recovery of the actual or incremental costs of performing the programming, coding, or custom search queries, together with a reasonable portion of the costs associated with building and maintaining the information systems; and
  • When a person makes a request to inspect or make copies or images of original public records, the bill permits the custodian to charge a fee for the time required for the custodian to supervise the handling of the records, when such supervision is necessary to protect the integrity or security of the original records.

Section 5 repeals the existing criminal misdemeanor offense and penalty for a willful and knowing violation of CORA.

The bill was introduced in the Senate and assigned to the State, Veterna

HB 17-1029: Allowing Records Custodians to Deny Access to Confidential Personal Information

On January 11, 2017, Rep. Polly Lawrence and Sen. Bob Gardner introduced HB 17-1029, “Concerning Public Records that are Subject to Denial of Inspection.”

The bill allows a custodian to deny access to confidential personal information records and employee personal e-mail addresses. The provisions of the ‘Colorado Open Records Act’ that relate to civil or administrative investigations and trade secrets and other privileged and confidential information apply to the judicial branch.

The bill was introduced in the House and assigned to the State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee. It is scheduled to be heard in committee on February 2 upon adjournment.

e-Legislative Report: Week of April 11, 2016

legislationWelcome to another edition of the e-leg report. We’re nearing the halfway point at the capitol, and that means the state budget debate is at hand. A number of bills that the CBA is working are subject to appropriations – and only after the budget debate is settled will we know whether they are likely to be funded or not.

Feel free to drop me a line on how we are doing or raise an issue on a piece of legislation. Contact me atjschupbach@cobar.org.

CBA Legislative Policy Committee

For followers who are new to CBA legislative activity, the Legislative Policy Committee (“LPC”) is the CBA’s legislative policy making arm during the legislative session. The LPC meets weekly during the legislative session to determine CBA positions from requests from the various sections and committees of the Bar Association. Members are welcome to attend the meetings—please RSVP if you are interested.

LPC Meeting Update

Here is a quick rundown of the bills on which we have recently taken a position.

HB 16-1211 – Marijuana Transporter License

The bill creates a retail marijuana transporter license and a medical marijuana transporter license. The license is valid for five years. A licensed marijuana transporter (transporter) provides logistics, distribution, and storage of marijuana and marijuana products. A transporter may contract with multiple businesses and may also hold another marijuana license. A transporter must be licensed by December 31, 2017, in order to continue to operate. The bill describes the circumstances under which a business can terminate a contract with a transporter.

The Bar’s Cannabis Law Committee is currently monitoring and preparing comments on this bill. The bill is working through its first chamber and has been greatly amended from its original form. The Legislative Policy Committee has not taken action on this bill.

HB 16-1235 – Commissions Evaluating State Judicial Performance

The bill makes revisions to various functions of the state commission on judicial performance (state commission) and the district commissions on judicial performance (district commission), referred to collectively as the “commissions.”

This bill was postponed indefinitely (killed) in the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee. The Colorado Bar Association had many concerns with the cost and operation of the bill.

HB 16-1270 – Security Interest Owner’s Interest In Business Entity

Under current law, the Uniform Commercial Code (Code) invalidates contractual limits on the transferability of some assets that can be subject to a security interest. In 2006, the Colorado Corporations and Associations Act (Act) was amended to clearly and broadly exempt an owner’s interest in a business entity from these Code provisions to effectuate the “pick your partner” principle that allows small businesses to control their ownership. Section 3 of the bill narrows the exemption in the Act to that necessary for “pick your partner,” and sections 1 and 2 codify this narrowed exemption in the Code.

This bill, part of a four bill package of business entities clean up acts, was supported by the Bar and has passed the House and Senate and is on its way to be signed by the Governor.

HB 16-1275 – Taxation Of Corporate Income Sheltered In Tax Haven

The bill pertains to an affiliated group of corporations filing a combined report. In a combined report filing, the tax is based on a percentage of the entire taxable income of all of the includable corporations, but the tax is assessed only against the corporation or corporations doing business in Colorado. Including more affiliated corporations in the combined report may result in an increase in income subject to tax.

There are jurisdictions located outside of the United States with no tax or very low rates of taxation, strict bank secrecy provisions, a lack of transparency in their tax system operations, and a lack of effective exchange of information with other countries. There are several common legal strategies for sheltering corporate income in such jurisdictions, often called “tax havens.”

Notwithstanding a current requirement in state law that those corporations with 80% or more of their property and payroll assigned to locations outside of the United States be excluded from a combined report, the bill makes a corporation that is incorporated in a foreign jurisdiction for the purpose of tax avoidance an includable C corporation for purposes of the combined report.

The bill defines a corporation incorporated in a foreign jurisdiction for the purpose of tax avoidance to mean any C corporation that is incorporated in a jurisdiction that has no or nominal effective tax on the relevant income and that meets one or more of five factors listed in the bill, unless it is proven to the satisfaction of the executive director of the Department of Revenue that such corporation is incorporated in that jurisdiction for a legitimate business purpose.

The bill requires the state controller to credit a specified amount per fiscal year to the state education fund to be used to help fund public school education.

The bill requires the secretary of state to submit a ballot question, to be treated as a proposition, at the statewide election to be held in November 2016 asking voters:

  • To increase taxes annually by the taxation of a corporation’s state income that is sheltered in a foreign jurisdiction for the purpose of tax avoidance;
  • To use the resulting tax revenue to help fund elementary and secondary public school education; and
  • To allow an estimate of the resulting tax revenue to be collected and spent notwithstanding any limitations in section 20 of article X of the state constitution (TABOR).

The Tax Law section of the CBA voted to oppose this bill, which was postponed indefinitely (killed) by the Senate State Affairs Committee. The Bar had concerns over the cost of vague language in the bill as well as the impact on the courts and judicial system.

HB 16-1310 – Operators Liable For Oil And Gas Operations

Under current law governing relations between surface owners and oil and gas operators, to prevail on a claim the surface owner must present evidence that the operator’s use of the surface materially interfered with the surface owner’s use of the surface of the land. The bill amends this requirement to allow proof that the operator’s oil and gas operations harmed the surface owner’s use of the surface of the land, caused bodily injury to the surface owner or any person residing on the property of the surface owner, or damaged the surface owner’s property.

The Legislative Policy Committee voted to oppose this bill because it upends the burden of proof responsibility. The bill has passed the House and is moving on to the Senate, where it will be heard by the Agriculture Committee.

HB 16-1331 – Policies On Juvenile Shackling In Court

The bill requires restraints on a juvenile to be removed prior to any court proceeding, except when the court determines the restraints are necessary:

  • To prevent physical harm to the juvenile or another person;
  • To prevent disruptive courtroom behavior by the juvenile, evidenced by a history of behavior that created potentially harmful situations or presented substantial risk of physical harm; or
  • To prevent the juvenile from fleeing the courtroom, when there is evidence of an escape history or other relevant factors.

The prosecution, sheriff, or any other detention or pretrial personnel may request that an individual juvenile be restrained in the courtroom. The court shall provide the juvenile’s attorney an opportunity to be heard before the court allows the use of restraints on a juvenile. The court may conduct a hearing on the use of restraints without the juvenile being present.

The CBA supports this bill as good policy and an extension of the efforts the courts have made this past year. While the courts need discretion, we believe this bill strikes the right balance for outlining the policies on how and when juveniles should be subject to shackling.

HB 16-1346 – Open Records Subject To Inspection Denial

The bill allows a custodian to deny access to confidential personal information records and employee personal e-mail addresses. The provisions of the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) that relate to civil or administrative investigations and trade secrets and other privileged and confidential information apply to the judicial branch.

The Bar Association opposed this bill because of constitutional and separation of powers concerns regarding the relationship between the judicial and legislative branches of government. In addition, we believe that the PAIRR rules issued by the Chief Justice, which closely mirror the text of CORA, are better suited to meet the information needs of requesters while maintaining the integrity of judicial records.

HB 16-1394 -Aligning Issues Around At-risk Persons

The bill implements the following recommendations of the at-risk adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities mandatory reporting implementation task force:

  • Standardizing statutory definitions among the Colorado Criminal Code, adult protective services in the department of human services, and the office of community living in the department of health care policy and financing;
  • Specifying that enhanced penalties for crimes against an at-risk person apply to all persons 70 years of age or older and to all persons with a disability; and
  • Clarifying and expanding the definitions of persons who are required to report instances of mistreatment of at-risk elders or at-risk adults with an intellectual and developmental disability (adults with IDD).

The bill also:

  • Reduces the time in which a law enforcement agency or county department is required to prepare a written report from 48 hours to 24 hours;
  • Specifies that a county department of human or social services is to conduct an investigation of allegations of mistreatment of an at-risk adult; and
  • Clarifies that the human rights committee is responsible for ensuring that an investigation of mistreatment of an adult with IDD occurred.

The Colorado Bar Association opposed the bill as written, but is working with stakeholders to review amendments from other stakeholder groups. We are working with and talking with the sponsors frequently.

SB 16-130 – Methods To Collect Consumer Use Tax

Consumer use tax is the complement to sales tax and is due on the purchases of goods where the retailer did not charge sales tax. For example, any time consumers make an Internet purchase and the out-of-state retailer does not charge sales tax, the purchaser should pay the equivalent amount of sales tax as consumer use tax directly to the Colorado Department of Revenue (department). The department has added a use tax line to the 2015 individual income tax return form in an effort to make self-reporting of use tax more convenient for consumers.

The bill specifies that after the 2015 income tax year the department is not allowed to add use tax reporting lines to the individual income tax return form for any reason. The bill also prohibits the department from auditing any taxpayer for any amount he or she reported on the use tax lines included in the 2015 individual income tax return form.

The CBA is monitoring this bill and has sought permission to make changes to the bill to ensure that collecting use taxes is efficient.

SB 16-131 Overseeing Fiduciaries’ Management Of Assets

The bill clarifies statutory language concerning the removal of a fiduciary to ensure that a fiduciary’s authority is suspended as soon as a petition to remove the fiduciary is filed. The bill adds a provision to the conservatorship statutes stating that an adult ward or protected person has a right to be represented by a lawyer of their choosing unless the trial court finds the person lacks sufficient capacity to provide informed consent for representation by a lawyer. The bill states that after a fiduciary receives notice of proceedings for his, her, or its removal, the fiduciary shall not pay compensation or attorney fees and costs from the estate without an order of the court.

This bill rearranges the existing responsibilities for fiduciaries managing assets. It is a cleanup and reorganization of these statutes and adds the right to legal counsel for wards and protected persons. The bill is scheduled for committee later this week.

SB 16-133 – Transfer Of Property Rights At Death

Under current law, a certificate of death, a verification of death document, or a certified copy thereof, of a person who is a joint tenant may be placed of record with the county clerk and recorder of the county in which the real property affected by the joint tenancy is located, together with a supplementary affidavit. The bill removes the requirement that the person who swears to and affirms the supplementary affidavit has no record interest in the real property. The bill includes inherited individual retirement accounts and inherited Roth individual retirement accounts as property exempt from levy and sale under writ of attachment or writ of execution.

The bill amends provisions concerning determination-of-heirship proceedings, as follows:

  • Clarifies the definition of “interested person” so that anyone affected by the ownership of property may commence a proceeding;
  • Describes when an unprobated will may be used as part of a proceeding;
  • Clarifies notice requirements; and
  • Ensures that a judgment and decree will convey legal title as opposed to equitable title.

The bill enacts portions of section 5 of the Uniform Power of Appointment Act, with amendments.
This bill, the second part of the Colorado Bar Association’s probate reorganization bills, has passed the legislature and will be sent to the Governor shortly.

Bills that the LPC is monitoring, watching or working on can be found at this link:
http://www.statebillinfo.com/sbi/index.cfm?fuseaction=Public.Dossier&id=21762&pk=996

SB 16-037: Modifying Requirements of Record-Keepers Under Colorado Open Records Act

On January 13, 2016, Sen. John Kefalas and Rep. Dan Pabon introduced SB 16-037Concerning Required Public Access Under the “Colorado Open Records Act” to Public Records as Defined By Such Act Contained in Digitally Stored Data Maintained By Governmental Bodies. The bill has passed through the Senate Health & Human Services and Appropriations Committees with amendments in both committees. It passed through the Senate with amendments and was assigned in the House to the Health, Insurance, & Environment Committee, where it was amended and referred to Appropriations.

This bill proposes to modify to the existing legal requirements under the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) pertaining to the inspection of open records.

The bill updates outdated statutory language used to describe public records kept in miniaturized, electronic, or digital form as a foundation for inspection requirements in connection with such records.

It deletes existing language that would require the official custodian to take any measures necessary to assist the public in locating specific records and to ensure access to the records without unreasonable cost or delay. The bill proposes to substitute provisions that would require the official custodian to provide records in any nonproprietary file format and storage medium specified by the requestor. This would include digital copies of any computer files, email, records uploaded to an online storage location shared with the requestor, access through viewing stations for records kept on microfiche, or, at the custodian’s discretion, direct electronic access.

The bill also requires the official custodian to manipulate electronically or digitally stored data in order to delete any confidential data in response to a records request. Removal of such confidential information or data does not trigger certain requirements specified in CORA for the payment of fees for the generation or copy of a public record. The official custodian, however, may charge the requestor for the actual cost of the digital storage used, if any, and a research and retrieval fee for the time spent gathering the information.

Mark Proust is a 2016 JD Candidate at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Teacher Attendance Records Not Personnel Records for CORA Purposes

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Jefferson County Education Association v. Jefferson County School District R-1 on Thursday, January 14, 2016.

This case discussed whether a record of a teacher’s sick leave is part of the teacher’s personnel file for purposes of the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA). In September 2014, some teachers at four Jefferson County high schools engaged in a “sick out” to protest specific school board proposals, resulting in the schools closing for the day. In February 2015, a Jefferson County resident requested the names of all teachers who were sick on that specific day pursuant to CORA. The school district decided to release the records, but the Jefferson County Education Association, a teachers union, did not want the district to release the records.

The union filed a C.R.C.P. 106(a)(2) motion in the trial court, requesting that the court order the district to deny the CORA request. The union asked for mandamus relief, arguing the records were part of the teachers’ personnel files. The trial court ultimately denied the union’s motion but granted a stay pending appeal. On appeal, the Colorado Court of Appeals focused on whether defendants had a clear duty to withhold the records from the CORA request. The court determined that, in fact, the defendants had a clear duty to disclose the records under CORA. The court drew a distinction between the types of record expressly exempted from CORA, such as personal demographic information, and the requested records in this case. Because the teachers were public employees whose absence affected their jobs, and because their absence was conspicuous to the public, the court of appeals found that the records of the teachers’ absences were not contained in the exemption to CORA. Further, because the teachers were paid with public funds, and the sick days were paid days, the court found that the district’s records of the sick days were public records for CORA purposes.

The trial court’s order was affirmed.

Rule Change 2015(08) Amends Chapter 38, “Public Access to Information and Records”

On Friday, October 30, 2015, the Colorado Supreme Court announced Rule Change 2015(08), amending Chapter 38 of the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure, “Public Access to Information and Records.” The changes amended the title of the rules from “Public Access to Records and Information” and added an extensive new Rule 2, “Public Access to Administrative Records of the Judicial Branch.” The rule follows the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) but is not identical, and the introductory paragraph to Rule 2 states, “Many of the rule’s deviations from CORA reflect simple changes to language and streamlined organization of the rule for clarity and to better serve the public. Other, substantive deviations from CORA reflect the unique nature of the records and operations of the Judicial Branch. These changes are addressed in comments throughout the rule. The rule pertains only to administrative records and does not contemplate or control access to court records.” The previously numbered Rule 2 was renumbered as Rule 3 but suffered no other amendments.

For the text of the new rule, click here. For all of the Colorado Supreme Court’s adopted and proposed rule changes, click here.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Disclosure of Proprietary Software Not Required When it Would Violate Terms of Licensing Agreement

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Todd v. Hause on Thursday, July 30, 2015.

Colorado Open Records Act—Trade Secret Exception—Personal Information—Redaction—Public Interest—Privacy Rights.

According to his complaint, Todd is a “consulting paralegal to Colorado attorneys” who “devotes a significant amount of his professional time to assisting criminal defense attorneys in DUI and DUID defense. . . .” Todd made several written Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) requests to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (Department) for all data gathered from the Intoxilyzer 9000, the device Colorado law enforcement agencies use to test the breath alcohol level of suspected intoxicated drivers. In response to Todd’s request, the Department asserted that the COBRA (Computerized Online Breath Archive) software is proprietary and that, under its license agreement with the developer, CMI, Inc., it was prohibited from copying or transferring the software. The Department offered to convert the data to Comma-Separated Values (.csv) file format, a different file format than SQL and, after redacting all confidential or personally identifying data fields, to provide the data to Todd. Todd refused this offer and filed a complaint in district court to enforce his CORA request.

On appeal, Todd contended that the Department did not meet its initial burden to show that there was no disputed issue of material fact regarding whether the data in SQL format was protected from disclosure under CORA’s trade secret exception. The Department met this burden, however, by asserting that (1) its software licensing agreement with CMI restricts it from copying or transferring the COBRA software, (2) the Intoxilyzer 9000 test data in SQL format could not be separated from the COBRA software, and (3) disclosure of this information would violate the licensing agreement and disclose trade secrets owned by CMI.

Todd also contended that the district court erred in permitting the Department to redact certain personal information of the operators of the Intoxilyzer 9000. The district court correctly found that disclosure of the operator identification, login information, and personal identification numbers would substantially injure the public interest. However, the Department failed to meet its burden to establish that there was no genuine issue of material fact that the test-takers possessed a legitimate expectation that their personal information would not be disclosed. Accordingly, that part of the summary judgment order allowing redaction of the test takers’ personal information was reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Day-to-Day Oversight of Personnel Exempted from Disclosure Under Open Meetings Law

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Arkansas Valley Publishing Co. v. Lake County Board of County Commissioners on Thursday, July 16, 2015.

Executive Session—Colorado Open Meetings Law—Personnel Discussions.

On February 19, 2013, the Lake County Board of County Commissioners (Board) convened an executive session to discuss a disciplinary matter involving the director of the Lake County Building and Land Use Department. An employee in the department had accused the director of criminal conduct. Plaintiff sought an order from the trial court for the Board to disclose the audio recording of its executive session after the Board had denied its request. The trial court granted the order.

On appeal, the Board contended that the district court erred by ordering the executive session recordings to be disclosed. The executive session was a meeting subject to the Colorado Open Meetings Law (OML). However, meetings involving the “day-to-day oversight of property or supervision of employees by county commissioners” are exempt from the notice requirement. Because the executive session here falls within this exception, the Board was not required to provide full and timely notice before convening the executive session to discuss the director’s employment status and record of that meeting was not subject to disclosure under the OML. Accordingly, the district court erred by granting plaintiff’s request for the Board to disclose the records of the executive session. The order was reversed and the case was remanded with directions for the district court to address plaintiff’s alternative grounds for disclosure under the Colorado Open Records Act.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: CORA Exception for Prosecuting Attorney Does Not Apply to Land Use Violation

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Shook v. Pitkin County Board of County Commissioners on Thursday, June 18, 2015.

Colorado Open Records Act—Investigatory Records Exception.

In August 2012, the Pitkin County Attorney’s Office received a citizen complaint regarding a potential code violation of plaintiff Shook’s property. The complaint was investigated and a violation notice for failure to obtain a necessary construction permit was issued. Shook cured the violation by obtaining a permit.

Several months later, Shook submitted a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request to the county attorney (custodian), seeking access to records related to the violation. The custodian provided certain documents but denied access to the original citizen complaint and the investigating officer’s handwritten notes.

Shook then filed this action, seeking a declaratory judgment that the custodian violated CORA by withholding the records, an order directing the custodian to disclose the records, and attorney fees and costs. The district court held that the custodian properly denied access to the records under CORA’s investigatory records exception, CRS § 24-72-204(2)(a)(I).

The investigatory records exception allows a custodian to withhold records if (1) the records relate to investigations conducted by a sheriff, prosecuting attorney, or police department, or are contained in investigatory files compiled for criminal law enforcement purposes; and (2) disclosure would be contrary to the public interest. Here, the record did not support the finding that the records related to an investigation by a prosecuting attorney. Such an attorney refers to one prosecuting a criminal matter, and this was not a criminal prosecution. The order was reversed for failure to meet the first prong.

CRS § 24-72-204(5) requires the court to award costs and reasonable attorney fees to any person who applies for and receives an order requiring a custodian to permit inspection of public records. The case was remanded with directions to order the custodian to allow Shook to inspect the records and, upon Shook’s application, assess and award reasonable court costs and attorney fees in her favor.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Official Custodian’s Denial of Records Request Proper so No Entitlement to Attorney Fee Award

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Reno v. Marks on Tuesday, May 26, 2015.

Colorado Open Records Act—CRS § 24-72-204—Costs and Attorney Fees.

In this case brought under the Colorado Open Records Act, the Supreme Court held that where an official custodian of records brings a court action under CRS § 24-72-204(6)(a) seeking an order restricting or prohibiting disclosure of records, a records requestor may recover costs and reasonable attorney fees in accordance with CRS § 24-72-204(5). Under subsection 204(5), a prevailing records requestor is entitled to costs and attorney fees unless the district court finds that the denial of the right of inspection was proper. Here, the district court’s order reflects that the official custodian’s denial of the request was proper. Consequently, the records requestor was not entitled to attorney fees.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

HB 14-1193: Limiting the Amount of Fees Allowed Under Colorado Open Records Act

On January 30, 2014, Rep. Joe Salazar and Sen. John Kefalas introduced HB 14-1193 – Concerning Requirements Governing the Imposition of a Fee for the Research and Retrieval of Public Records under the “Colorado Open Records Act.” This summary is published here courtesy of the Colorado Bar Association’s e-Legislative Report.

The bill allows a custodian of public records under the “Colorado Open Records Act” to impose a fee in response to a request for the research and retrieval of such records only if the custodian has, prior to the date of receiving the request, either posted on the custodian’s web site or otherwise published a written policy that specifies the applicable conditions concerning the research and retrieval of public records by the custodian. The bill prohibits the custodian under any circumstances from charging an hourly fee for the research and retrieval of public records that exceeds four times the state minimum wage.

The bill passed out of the House on Feb. 24 and has been assigned to the State, Veterans, & Military Affairs Committee in the Senate.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Attorney Fees Should Have Been Awarded in Open Records Case

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Reno, Chaffee County Clerk & Reporter v. Marks on Thursday, January 16, 2014.

Voted Ballots—Colorado Open Records Act—CRS §24-72-204(5)—Attorney Fees.

Respondent Marilyn Marks sent to petitioner Joyce Reno, the Chaffee County Clerk and Recorder, two written requests to review some voted ballots from the 2010 general election. Reno filed an action in district court under the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA), requesting that the court prevent the disclosure of voted ballots. Before the hearing on Reno’s petition, the parties stipulated to stay the proceedings pending the outcome of proposed legislation, House Bill 12-1036. After the bill passed, Reno agreed to produce a single anonymous voted ballot according to guidelines contained in the statute. Following an evidentiary hearing, the district court declined to award Marks any attorney fees.

CRS §24-72-204(5) states that the court “shall award court costs and reasonable attorney fees to the prevailing applicant” unless the custodian obtains an order restricting inspection. On appeal, Marks contended that because she was the prevailing applicant under CRS §24-72-204(5), the court erred in denying her request for attorney fees. Reno commenced the action but failed to obtain a court order shielding any of the requested records from inspection; hence, Reno is liable for Marks’s attorney fees. The Court of Appeals found that as a consequence, Marks was entitled to reasonable appellate attorney fees under CORA. Therefore, the order denying Marks’s request for attorney fees was reversed and the case was remanded to the trial court for an award of Marks’s reasonable attorney fees, including her fees in this appeal.

Summary and full case available here.