KC Star – Former student journalist’s suit against JCCC resolved

Posted on Thu, Dec. 01, 2011 05:42 PM

Former student journalist’s suit against JCCC resolved


Johnson County Community College and a former journalism student have resolved a lawsuit that accused the school of charging excessive fees to produce public documents.


Marcus Clem and the Student Press Law Center sued the college in October to get seven months of emails between a former JCCC employee, who had been abruptly let go, and the employee’s supervisor.


School officials had said it would require “a significant amount of time and expense, to satisfy the request and the documents would be released once more than $47,000 was paid.


This week, three months of emails — more than 200 pages — were made available to Clem for $450, “a fraction of what the school had said it would cost,” said Frank LoMonte, executive director of the law center. The law center paid for the records.


LoMonte said the school withheld two pages protected by a Kansas Open Records Law exemption.


Clem, who dropped classes at JCCC after the lawsuit was filed, shared the documents with the Campus Ledger, the student newspaper.


“We don’t normally take this kind of a case to court,” LoMonte said. “But this one was so flagrant that we thought it was important to make the point that these institutions can’t erect these insurmountable financial barriers to getting public documents. Either they see this as a money-making opportunity or they just wanted to make the press go away.”


Joe Sopcich, executive vice president of administrative services for the college, said the original quote was so high because the request was of a very broad scope and might have required the school to solicit an outside contractor to handle part of the electronic archival work needed to get all the information requested.


But Sopcich said he and the college are happy about the resolution and the eventual dismissal of the lawsuit. The case never made it to a hearing because the issue was resolved outside of court.


He said the school found a less expensive way to retrieve the documents requested and the price was reduced substantially.


The original request for the documents had been made by the Campus Ledger, which was not a party to the lawsuit. After Ledger writers saw how expensive their request was, they narrowed the scope asking for fewer documents.


The college put a $24,000 price tag on the second request, still considered excessive by students and the law center. The Ledger and the law center made several attempts to get the information at a “reasonable cost.” Eventually, the request was pared to emails between two people over one day. JCCC officials said that request, for about 20 emails, would cost nearly $10,000.


“There was no real justification for that five-figure price quote,” LoMonte said, adding that’s why a suit was filed.


Clem, 21, of Stilwell, said Thursday that he was satisfied with the outcome.


“We got what we were after and they dropped their fee down to a much more reasonable level and that’s all we wanted.”


The Kansas City Star


Posted on Thu, Dec. 01, 2011 05:42 PM




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