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Penalties for violating law include fines, jail

Elizabeth Caldwell, FOIArkansas Project

Arkansas law provides for a fine and/or jail time for criminal violators of the state Freedom of Information Act.

Violations are misdemeanors, punishable by a fine of up to $200 or 30 days in jail, or both, or appropriate public service or education, or both.

It is up to prosecutors to determine if criminal charges are warranted.

Citizens also can seek civil remedies.

The Arkansas law specifies that plaintiffs who are denied their rights under the FOI Act shall be awarded attorneys’ fees and court costs unless the court finds the defendant was substantially justified, or if circumstances would make the awarding of costs and attorneys’ fees unjust. The state cannot be assessed expenses.

In the six states surrounding Arkansas, penalties range from the possibility of having to pay attorneys’ fees to criminal penalties and fines of up to $1,000 and jail sentences of up to a year:

  • Louisiana — A person convicted of violating the Public Records Act shall be fined from $100 to $1,000, or imprisoned from one month to six months upon first conviction. Upon subsequent convictions, violators shall be fined $250 to $2,000 or imprisoned from two months to six months, or both, upon subsequent conviction.
  • Mississippi — The law provides for a civil penalty only. Fines of up to $100 can be assessed if officials “willfully and knowingly deny access.” The law allows a judge to require violators to pay the winner’s attorneys’ fees and court costs.
  • Oklahoma — Violation of its open meetings and open records acts is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500, a year in jail or both. Any person denied access may bring civil suit and may be entitled to attorneys’ fees if he wins, or may have to pay attorneys’ fees if he loses.
  • Missouri — If a court finds a governmental body has violated the state Sunshine Law, it may declare any action taken in violation of the law void. If a court finds a member of a public governmental body purposely violates the law, it can impose a civil fine on the member or the body itself of up to $500 and order the member or body to pay all costs and attorney fees to the party filing the lawsuit. There are no criminal charges for violations in Missouri.
  • Tennessee — Violation of the open records and open meetings laws is not a criminal offense. No provisions are made for imposition of fines. Awarding of attorneys’ fees is discretionary with the court if “the court finds that a governmental entity, or agent thereof, refusing to disclose a record knew that such record was public and willfully refused to disclose it.”
  • Texas — An officer for public information who, with criminal negligence, “fails or refuses to give access to, or to permit or provide copying of, public information” may be found guilty of a misdemeanor and face up to six months in jail and a $ 1,000 fine. Violators also are subject to an official misconduct misdemeanor charge, punishable by removal from office.

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