Ready access to emails

At the Death by Email blog, Roger Matus covers the “social, political, legal and business” risks of electronic communications.

In doing that, his blog is also the best place to go for information about the intersection of open records and email.

Take today’s entry, about how bad email archiving on the part of Dallas led to a judge fining them $1.55 million.

In this case, the city of Dallas didn’t turn over email records on a timely basis to the attorney of a city employee who had been accused of harrassing another employee.

According to the Dallas Morning News article Roger is commenting on,

Attorneys for the city argued that the problems in turning over records were mistakes caused by a complex e-mail archiving process that was laborious to search.

The judge was not at all sympathetic to this excuse, accusing them of “reckless” and “sanctionable” conduct.

One of the obstacles that citizens and reporters face when they seek public documents from government agencies are excessive search fees for archived email records. Very few citizens and reporters will have financial backing to sue when they are presented with this reason for a public records denial. However, it seems reasonable to believe that if and when such lawsuits are filed, judges will not be sympathetic to the idea that agencies should be able to charge excessive fees because they are using a cumbersome or antiquated email archiving system.

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