Warnken, LLC Attorneys at Law, Attorneys & Lawyers, Pikesville, MD

Maryland Public Information Act

The Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) allows Maryland citizens to access state public records, save for those where there is a legitimate state interest to protect the records from public view; often to protect the privacy of individual citizens. MPIA is the state equivalent of the federal government’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and like FOIA, allows and individual to send a request to the state seeking particular public documents and obtain those records, unless there was a genuine government interest to keep them confidential. An individual may be assessed a small fee for the cost of printing and employee time, but no fee should be realistic and not have the goal of effectively preventing the citizen from obtaining the records sought. See http://www.oag.state.md.us/Opengov/pia.htm

The MPIA is a relatively recent development in Maryland’s law, which once allowed very limited access to public records. Belt v. Prince George’s County Abstract Co., 73 Md. 289, 20 A. 982 (1890). In 1956, the Attorney General of Maryland stated that one could not “satisfy any whim or fancy” through the inspection of records. 41 Opinions of the Attorney General 113 (1956). However, the MPIA found its start in 1970, when the legislature passed Chapter 698 of the Laws of Maryland 1970, and the state began to allow the public access to a broad range of records.

Since the MPIA became part of Maryland law, state courts have continued to refine its meaning and scope. In 1984, the Court of Appeals noted that labeling alone does not exempt otherwise accessible records from public review, and that when an a government agency attempts to claim the records sought are exempted, it must give sufficient explanation as to why. Cranford v. Montgomery Cnty., 300 Md. 759 (1984). The Court has also recognized that a police officer could make an MPIA request for surveillance videos for his own administrative proceedings, even if the rules of civil procedure would not normally allow a citizen to use the video. Hammen v. Baltimore Cnty. Police Dep’t, 373 Md. 440 (2003). While some employment information may be exempt from the MPIA, the Court of Appeals has held this exemption did not extend to the employment contracts of University of Maryland coaches. Univ. Sys. of Maryland v. Baltimore Sun Co., 381 Md. 79 (2004). Also, while the individual seeking records may receive payment of their attorney’s fees should the request go to court, this provision is only applicable where the records would serve a public interest. Stromberg Metal Works, Inc. v. Univ. of Maryland, 166 Md. App. 190 (2005) aff’d, 395 Md. 120 (2006).

The MPIA has proven to be a helpful tool for citizens seeking greater transparency from the government, and it can be a necessary asset for governmental employees facing administrative hearings. Consistent court rulings of the decades since its implementation have helped to ensure its continued usefulness.

Warnken, LLC uses the Maryland Public Information Act in various kinds of circumstances and litigation. It is used extensively in criminal post verdict proceedings. Seldom a post conviction goes by without an MPIA request being filed for some document or record related to the case.