Wichita Eagle – Student sues Johnson County college over open-records charges

Student sues Johnson County college over open-records charges

By Mara Rose Williams

Kansas City Star

Published Saturday, Oct. 8, 2011, at 12:08 a.m.

Updated Saturday, Oct. 8, 2011, at 12:33 a.m.

Johnson County Community College is being sued by a student journalist who claims it tried to skirt the Kansas Open Records Law by requiring excessive charges for public documents.


The student newspaper, the Campus Ledger, requested seven months of e-mails between a former JCCC employee who had been abruptly let go and the employee’s supervisor.


Administrators responded that that would require “a significant amount of time and expense,” and that documents would be released once the newspaper paid $47,426.


“That struck us as excessive,” said Christopher Grenz, Kansas City attorney for Marcus Clem, 21, of Stilwell, as well as the Student Press Law Center, based near Washington, D.C.


“The college never indicated that the records requested did not fall under the purview of the Kansas Open Records Act.”


The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, contends “the college’s attempt to charge excessive fees … is an effort to chill the public’s access to information that should be readily available.”


Joe Sopcich, JCCC’s executive vice president for administrative services, said, “There was no intent to do what the lawsuit contends we did.”


When the college receives a records request, he said, “we do take it very serious and respond as accurately and as quickly as possible.”


“But this request was unusual in scope,” he said. “It was of a very broad scope.”


The Ledger, which is not a party in the lawsuit, and the law center made several attempts to get the information at a “reasonable cost.” Eventually, the request was pared to e-mails between two people over one day.


According to the suit, school officials said even that request for about 20 e-mails would cost nearly $10,000 because an outside firm would have to work 45 hours to retrieve those missives.


Clem, whose semester working with the student paper ended in May, said he was shocked by the price tag.


“I was prepared to pay several hundred dollars,” he said.


Neither Clem nor the newspaper had uncovered any wrongdoing by JCCC involving the employee leaving the school.