GRAMA: Court rejects bid for property database
In a fight over Utah's record laws, the Utah Court of Appeals on Friday said governments do not need to provide copies of a database if they already make the information accessible online.
Two separate rulings upheld decisions by Davis and Tooele counties to deny requests it received under the Utah Government Records Access and Management Act.
The requestor, Steven Maese, in 2009 asked both counties for copies of their property transactions databases or "aÂ compiledÂ transaction report,Â forÂ theÂ pastÂ 20Â years,Â inÂ electronicÂ format," according to Friday's opinion.
Davis and Tooele counties denied the requests because they already place searchable real estate records online and make hard copies available to the public at county offices. GRAMA provides access to records but does not necessarily guarantee copies.
The counties also said the compiled transaction report required creating a record, something GRAMA says the government does not have to do.
Maese sued the counties in state court but judges in each county dismissed the cases.
On Friday, Maese said he sent a similar request to Summit County and it provided its database. Maese, who has a marketing firm and was convicted in 2008 of five felonies related to what a jury decided was a prostitution scheme, pointed out the online property data in Davis and Tooele counties allows him to learn about individual properties, but does not show him trends.
He gave the example of running a query to determine which month has the most property sales. If the counties don't make such trends available, he argued, they should give him the data so he can input the queries.
"What these government agencies are going to do is say, 'Well, you have access to the records. Come down here and bring your own copy machine,'" Maese said.
But attorney Jeff Hunt, who has represented the news media in court and served on last year's statewide GRAMA Working Group, said he thinks Friday's rulings will have little impact. The facts in Maese's case are unique, Hunt said, and the appeals court just affirmed existing state statutes.
"I'm skeptical to think that these two decisions have a lot of application in the future for just generally requesting electronic records," Hunt said.
Heather White, a private attorney who represents government bodies across Utah, said the ruling was fair for both the government and citizens seeking records.
"It makes sure there's not an undue burden for governmental entities, just that access should be provided," White said.