Maryland Public Information Act Compliance Board Dismisses Frosh Complaint

The Maryland Public Information Act Compliance Board has dismissed our request to hear our appeal regarding a fee waiver for materials from the Office of Attorney General Brian Frosh.

You may recall that Red Maryland has been seeking documents from the Office of the Attorney General related to their involvement with the AG’s United for Clean Power group that has been seeking to suppress free speech and intimidate groups that oppose the liberal position on global warming.  We were appealing the fact that fees were not waived despite our status as a media organization.

The Board dismissed the request not based on the merits of the waiver, but because the Maryland Public Information Act Compliance Board doesn’t have jurisdiction over fee waivers:

September 9, 2016

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Dear Mr. Griffiths,

The complaint you submitted to the Public Information Act Compliance Board arrived on September 6, 2016. The materials reflect that you received an initial set of materials from the OAG with no charge of fees, and that a second request yielded an estimated fee of $2,000. Your complaint seeks review only of the OAG’s denial of the requested fee waiver.

Based on this information, I have been instructed by the Board to dismiss the complaint as not within the Board’s jurisdiction. The statute establishing the Board limits its authority to review of a complaint that an agency has charged an unreasonable fee. Even the limited jurisdiction does not apply to fees less than $350.00.

The waiver issue you present falls within the authority of the Public Access Ombudsman and the circuit court. If you choose to challenge the estimated fee as unreasonable, please submit a new complaint within the timeframe defined in the law.

Thank you,

Karen L. Federman Henry
Assistant Attorney General
200 St. Paul Place
Baltimore, Maryland 21202

Red Maryland will be appealing the amount of the fees to the Board. However, this opens up an entirely new category of issue regarding the Board itself.

The Maryland General Assembly passed legislation that created the Maryland Public Information Act Compliance Board but gave it limited jurisdiction that only covered the amount of fees that were being assessed. They did not give the Board any authority or jurisdiction that allows them to rule on the validity of fee waivers for any individuals, whether they are a media organization like us or if they are private citizens. That is a serious flaw in the law, and something that the Maryland General Assembly should take corrective action on during the 2017 General Assembly session

It is unfortunate that, for the moment, Attorney General Brian Frosh will be able to continue obfuscating any investigation of his conduct in the AGs for Clean Power scandal and that he is able to hide behind a technicality in the law to get away with.

We will keep you posted with more information about our pursuit of these documents, documents which are necessary to determine if Brian Frosh and the Office of the Attorney General is operating in an ethical manner.

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