The Door to Open Government in

ALABAMA

prepared by:

Gilbert E. Johnston, Jr.
James P. Pewitt
S. Shelton Foss
JOHNSTON BARTON PROCTOR & POWELL LLP
2900 Amsouth/Harbert Plaza
1901 Sixth Avenue North
BirminghamAlabama35203-2618

(205) 458-9400


QUICK OUTLINE:

 
OpenRecords


I. Statute - Basic Application
II. Exemptions and Other Legal Limitations
III. State Law On Electronic Records
IV. Record Categories -- Open or Closed
V. Procedure for Obtaining Records

OpenMeetings


I. Statute - Basic Application
II. Exemptions and Other Legal Limitations
III. Meeting Categories -- Open or Closed
IV. Procedure for Asserting Right of Access
V. Asserting a Right to Comment


FULL OUTLINE:
OPEN RECORDS 

A. Who can request records? 

1. Status of requestor. 
2. Purpose of request. 
3. Use of records. 

B. Whose records are and are not subject to the act? 

1. Executive branch. 

a. records of the executives themselves 
b. records of certain but not all functions 

2. Legislative bodies. 
3. Courts. 
4. Nongovernmental bodies 

a. Bodies receiving public funds or benefits. 
b. Bodies whose members include governmental officials. 

5. Multi-state or regional bodies. 
6. Advisory boards and commissions, quasi-governmental entities. 
7. Others 

C. What records are and are not subject to the act? 

1.What kind of records are covered 
2. What physical form of records are covered? 
3. Are certain records available for inspection but not copies? 

D. Fee provisions or practices. 

1. Levels or limitations on fees. 
2. Particular fee specifications or provisions. 

a. Search. 
b. Duplication. 
c. Transcription? 

3. Provisions for fee waivers. 
4. Requirements or prohibitions regarding advance payment. 
5. Have agencies imposed prohibitive fees to discourage requesters? 

II. EXEMPTIONS AND OTHER LEGAL LIMITATIONS. 

A. Exemptions in the open records statute. 

1. Character of exemptions. 

a. General or specific. 
b. Mandatory or discretionary. 
c. Patterned after federal Freedom of Information Act? 

2. Discussion of each exemption. 

B. Other statutory exclusions. 
C. Court-derived exclusions, common law prohibitions, recognized privileges against disclosure. 
D. Are segregable portions of records containing exempt material available? 

III. STATE LAW ON ELECTRONIC RECORDS 

A. Can the requester choose a format for receiving records? 
B. Can the requester obtain a customized search of computer databases to fit particular needs? 
C. Does the existence of information in electronic format affect its openness? 
D. How is e-mail treated? 
E. Is software public? 
F. How are fees for electronic records assessed? 
G. Money-making schemes 

1. Revenues. 
2. Geographic Information Systems. 

H. On-line dissemination 

IV. RECORD CATEGORIES -- OPEN OR CLOSED. 

A. Autopsy reports. 
B. Bank records. 
C. Business records, financial data, trade secrets. 
D. Contracts, proposals and bids. 
E. Collective bargaining records. 
F. Coroners reports. 
G. Election records. 
H. Hospital reports. 
I. Personnel records. 

1. Salary. 
2. Disciplinary records. 
3. Applications. 
4. Other. 

J. Police records. 

1. Accident reports. 
2. Police blotter. 
3. 911 tapes. 
4. Investigatory records. 

a. rules for active investigations 
b. rules for closed investigations 

5. Arrest records. 
6. Compilations of criminal histories. 
7. Victims. 
8. Confessions. 
9. Confidential informants. 
10. Police techniques. 
11. Mug shots. 

K. Prison, parole and probation reports. 
L. Public utility records. 
M. Real estate appraisals, negotiations. 
N. School and university records. 

1. Athletic records. 
2. Trustee records. 
3. Student records. 
4. Other. 

O. Vital statistics. 

1. Birth certificates. 
2. Marriage & divorce. 
3. Death certificates. 

V. PROCEDURE FOR OBTAINING RECORDS. 

A. How to start. 

1. Who receives a request? 
2. Does the law cover oral requests? 

a. Arrangements to inspect & copy 
b. If an oral requests is denied: 

(1). How does the requester memorialize the refusal? 
(2). Do subsequent steps need to be in writing? 

3. Contents of a written request. 

a. Description of the records. 
b. Need to address fee issues. 
c. Plea for quick response. 
d. Can the request be for future records? 
e. Other. 

B. How long to wait. 

1. Statutory, regulatory or court-set time limits for agency response. 
2. Informal telephone inquiry as to status. 
3. Is delay recognized as a denial for appeal purposes? 
4. Any other recourse to encourage a response. 

C. Administrative appeal. 

1. Time limit for filing an appeal. 
2. To whom is an appeal directed? 

3. Fee issues. 
4. Contents of appeal letter. 

5. Waiting for a response. 
6. Subsequent remedies. 

D. Court action. 

1. Who may sue? 
2. Priority. 
3. Pro se. 
4. Issues the court will address: 

a. Denial. 
b. Fees for records. 
c. Delays. 
d. Patterns for future access (declaratory judgment). 

5. Pleading format. 
6. Time limit for filing suit. 
7. What court. 
8. Judicial remedies available. 
9. Costs and attorneys fees. 
10. Fines. 
11. Other penalties. 
12. Settlement, pros and cons. 

E. Appealing initial court decisions. 

1. Appeal routes. 
2. Time limits for filing appeals. 
3. Contact of interested amici


OPEN MEETINGS 


B. What governments are subject to the law? 

1. State. 
2. County. 
3. Local or municipal. 

C. What bodies are covered by the law? 

1. Executive branch agencies. 

a. What officials are covered? 
b. Are certain executive functions covered? 
c. Are only certain agencies subject to the act or are some excluded from coverage? 

2. Legislative bodies. 
3. Courts. 
4. Nongovernmental bodies receiving public funds or benefits. 
5. Nongovernmental groups whose members include governmental officials. 
6. Multi-state or regional bodies, such as planning authorities 
7. Advisory boards and commissions, quasi-governmental entities. 
8. Other bodies to which governmental or public functions are delegated. 
9. Appointed as well as elected bodies. 

D. What constitutes a meeting subject to the law.

1. Number that must be present 

a. Must a minimum number be present to constitute a "meeting"? 
b. What effect does absence of a quorum have? 

2. Nature of business subject to the law. 

a. "Information gathering" and "fact-finding" sessions. 
b. Deliberations toward decisions. 

3. Electronic meetings. 

a. Conference calls. 
b. E-mail. 

E. Categories of meetings subject to the law. 

1. Regular meetings. 

a. Definition. 
b. Notice. 

(1). Time limit for giving notice. 
(2). To whom notice is given. 
(3). Where posted. 
(4). Public agenda items required. 
(5). Other information required in notice. 
(6). Penalties and remedies for failure to give adequate notice. 

c. Minutes. 

(1). Information required. 
(2). Are minutes public record? 

2. Special or emergency meetings. 

a. Definition. 
b. Notice requirements. 

(1). Time limit for giving notice. 
(2). To whom notice is given. 
(3). Where posted. 
(4). Public agenda items required. 
(5). Other information required in notice. 
(6). Penalties and remedies for failure to give adequate notice. 

c. Minutes. 

(1). Information required. 
(2). Are minutes public record? 

3. Closed meetings or executive sessions. 

a. Definition. 
b. Notice requirements. 

(1). Time limit for giving notice. 
(2). To whom notice is given. 
(3). Where posted. 
(4). Public agenda items required. 
(5). Other information required in notice. 
(6). Penalties and remedies for failure to give adequate notice. 

c. Minutes. 

(1). Information required. 
(2). Are minutes public record? 

d. Requirement to meet in public before closing meeting. 
e. Requirement to state statutory authority for closing meetings before closure. 
f. Tape recording requirements. 

F. Recording/broadcast of meetings. 

1. Sound recordings allowed. 
2. Photographic recordings allowed. 

II. EXEMPTIONS AND OTHER LEGAL LIMITATIONS. 

A. Exemptions in the open meetings statute. 

1. Character of exemptions. 

a. General or specific. 
b. Mandatory or discretionary closure. 

2. Description of each exemption. 

B. Any other statutory requirements for closed or open meetings. 
C. Court mandated opening, closing. 

III. MEETING CATEGORIES -- OPEN OR CLOSED. 

A. Adjudications by administrative bodies. 

1. Deliberations closed, but not fact-finding. 
2. Only certain adjudications closed, i.e. under certain statutes. 

B. Budget sessions. 
C. Business and industry relations. 
D. Federal programs. 
E. Financial data of public bodies. 
F. Financial data, trade secrets or proprietary data of private corporations and individuals. 
G. Gifts, trusts and honorary degrees. 
H. Grand jury testimony by public employees. 
I. Licensing examinations. 
J. Litigation; pending litigation or other attorney-client privileges. 
K. Negotiations and collective bargaining of public employees 

1. Any sessions regarding collective bargaining. 
2. Only those between the public employees and the public body. 

L. Parole board meetings, or meetings involving parole board decisions. 
M. Patients; discussions on individual patients. 
N. Personnel matters. 

1. Interviews for public employment. 
2. Disciplinary matters, performance or ethics of public employees. 
3. Dismissal; considering dismissal of public employees. 

O. Real estate negotiations. 
P. Security, national and/or state, of buildings, personnel or other. 
Q. Students; discussions on individual students. 

IV. PROCEDURE FOR ASSERTING RIGHT OF ACCESS. 

A. When to challenge. 

1. Does the law provide expedited procedure for reviewing request to attend upcoming meetings? 
2. When barred from attending. 
3. To set aside decision. 
4. For ruling on future meetings. 
5. Other. 

B. How to start. 

1. Where to ask for ruling. 

a. Administrative forum. 

(1). Agency procedure for challenge. 
(2). Commission or independent agency. 

b. State attorney general. 
c. Court. 

2. Applicable time limits. 
3. Contents of request for ruling. 
4. How long should you wait for a response? 
5. Are subsequent or concurrent measures (formal or informal) available? 

C. Court review of administrative decision. 

1. Who may sue? 
2. Will the court give priority to the pleading? 
3. Pro se possibility, advisability. 
4. What issues will the court address? 

a. Open the meeting. 
b. Invalidate the decision. 
c. Order future meetings open. 

5. Pleading format. 
6. Time limit for filing suit. 
7. What court. 
8. Judicial remedies available. 
9. Availability of court costs and attorneys fees. 
10. Fines. 
11. Other penalties. 

D. Appealing initial court decisions. 

1. Appeal routes. 
2. Time limits for filing appeals. 
3. Contact of interested amici

V. ASSERTING A RIGHT TO COMMENT. 

A. Is there a right to participate in public meetings? 
B. Must a commenter give notice of intentions to comment? 
C. Can a public body limit comment? 
D. How can a participant assert rights to comment? 
E. Are there sanctions for unapproved comment? 


© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, 1815 N. Fort Myer Dr., Suite 900, Arlington, VA 22209. Phone: (703) 807-2100 Email: rcfp@rcfp.org See copyright page for reprint information for classroom or nonprofit use.