Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Judge denies waiver of copying fees, but suggests employment opportunity for homeless
by Larry Geller
Can there really be open access to public documents if access is blocked by the imposition of prohibitive fees? Here’s an instance where Chief Justice Ronald Moon has denied a request for waiver of fees, leaving the requestor with the obstacle of a large expense to get hold of the public records.
The Honolulu Community-Media Council and other good government groups are working on a project to make judicial financial disclosure documents available to the public by placing them on the web.
There is little excuse for these documents not being freely viewable right now, but at least the court can let the Media Council do the job they should be doing themselves.
It should be a piece of cake. The judiciary would just copy the files out of their computer onto a CD or memory stick or something. You know, like your ten-year old child does at home.
But no. Ten year old children may be more technically advanced than our judiciary. They have a fee schedule for producing paper copies and that’s what they know, no more, no less. No CDs, no memory sticks. Maybe they have not even started using word processors for these things, who knows. We could be talking medieval here. Dark Ages.
So ok, the requestors are willing to make do with paper. The latest request is for paper copies, with waiver of fees in the public interest. Whatever works. The idea is to make these documents available to all. So you and I can see them, just as we can see financial disclosures for politicians and other public officials.
So here is how that would work:
Ok, so they will not actually re-write the documents by hand. I got carried away. But the Court computer will print each document or they’ll grab it from a file cabinet, and it will be carried over to another computer to be scanned and input to the Internet. Then the paper goes into one of those barrels to be carried to the landfill.
Medieval or not, it would do the job. All will be revealed. Piece of cake.
But the Court denied the request. Check it out. It’s very official looking. There’s even an official “loophole” helpfully included. Here it is:
…we find Petitioner's request fails to state
good cause for waiver of the copying fees.1
That superscript leads to this short footnote at the bottom, which is the key to how the Media Council might proceed:
1 E.g., personal indigency.
Yup, the Court will waive the fees if the applicant is personally indigent. Curiously, here is a case where a certain class of people have more rights than the rest of us. I suppose they could ask for, and get, pretty much whatever documents they want from the Court.
So, Media Council, here’s what you can do. And please let me know how it works out.
Step 1: Send an emissary to Kapiolani Park before Mufi cleans it up.
Step 2: Offer a small stimulus payment to someone willing to help, a person concerned that judicial financial disclosure forms should be available to all of us. It’s fair to offer something in exchange for this work but not enough, of course, that the Court could challenge whether the person is personally indigent.
Step 3: Assist willing personally indigent person in filling out a request form. There will probably need to be some kind of statement included to be sure that the Court knows that this time the waiver is being made by someone pre-qualified, as they say in the financial biz, according to the criteria the Chief Justice Himself has set.
Step 4: Get ready to do the scanning.
This requirement is helpful and so ridiculous at the same time. But why not take advantage. It could be a new business opportunity for those who have none. All it would take is a small home office set up in a park someplace. We, the public, for a reasonable fee, would go there to get assistance in having documents released by our court system to the public. Need a copy of your old divorce papers? Over by the Natatorium, third tree from the end, they can help you. Don’t accuse me of making fun of the indigent, the judge set this up. He has offered the Media Council a way to get their job done, if only they will involve someone who cannot pay.
The next time someone compares the openness of different states to public record requests, they could put a footnote next to Hawaii. People living in the parks and on the streets have a very, very hard life, but it has this one perk. They are uniquely qualified to get documents free from the courts, thanks to Judge Moon.