Shouldn’t You Be Able To Actually Use The Records You Get From The Government?

I argued an appeal this week in one of favorite OPRA cases as of late – Banda v. Bloomfield.  Ms. Banda asked for a tape of meeting.  She was given a tape recorded at ultra-low speed.  When it was played on “normal” consumer audio equipment – stereo, tape player in her car and a boom box -  you could not understand it.  Bloomfield offered to convert it to normal speed for $85 + another tape charge.  And to have it transcribed required a $1000 deposit.  We filed suit under OPRA, asserting that government should provide records in a format consumers would expect to encounter so the records COULD ACTUALLY BE USED.  Bloomfield defended its actions because it wanted to “save on tapes” by fitting more on a tape.  A tape costs less than a $1 AND only needs to legally be kept for 90 days by the way, so it is not like storing them was a big deal.  The trial judge disagreed with us, finding that providing the tapes in the format they were recorded was enough.  The appellate panel of Judges Paulette Sapp Peterson and Mitchel Ostrer seemed poised to reverse.   I expect this to be a relatively quick opinion to issue because the judges  honed right in on the issue as if they were clarifying writing points, not discerning what the issues were.  There was a lot here Bloomfield could have done to make access far easier – new digital equipment is only a few hundred dollars, 90 minute tapes are the same size as the 60 minute tapes used, the record function could have been set to normal speed or the playback machine could have been kept in the library.  For these and other reasons, I predict Bloomfield’s “saving on tapes” rationale will not stand.

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