Obtaining Records through FOIA as a journalist, writer, or researcher

Today, we’re going to be talking about a special class of people that FOIA strongly favors. Those people are writers, researchers, authors, journalists, bloggers, scientists who regularly publish, doctors who regularly publish, and basically people that get the word out about a given topic or given subject notice. That doesn’t mean just anyone. It means they have to be people who are able to synthesize and analyze and understand the records that they’re receiving from this federal agency and then turn it into something. Maybe they’re turning it into a video, maybe they’re turning into a book, maybe they’re turning into a blog post, but they’ve got to be able to synthesize and analyze. Then the keyword here is to disseminate that information to others.
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Why are these people special? Under the Freedom of Information Act? The reason is because if they make a request that isn’t honored and if they make an administrative appeal that isn’t successful. They are forced to obtain the services of a law firm to then sue, or, as we say, more technically to pursue a judicial review of the government’s actions toward their request. Then the lawyers who pursue that, they are entitled to their reasonable hourly fee for representing that special person. Notice that doesn’t apply in the case of personal records, where I just want the records about my case. No, this is about obtaining records so that Congress, so that the American people, so that others can understand the importance of those records.


Now we have several examples in our law firm where a client has put up $500 for the costs and they have not put up any money at all for our services. We have pursued the case. They have obtained the records, they analyzed them, they wrote an article or in some cases, a book. Then we were able to recover our attorney fees against that federal defendant, sometimes by sublime, sometimes by court order. That is one of the ways that we keep the government honest. That’s one of the ways that we make the system of open records actually work. We would be honored to talk with you if you fall in these categories. So if you have questions on how to navigate the FOIA process, please feel free to give me a call and I’d be happy to talk with you.