The First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom … of the press; or the right of the people … to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” The right to “petition the government for a redress of grievances” means nothing without the ability to know what the government is doing; hence, the protection of freedom of the press.
Over time, “[u]nder the federal Freedom of Information Act and public records laws in all 50 states, anyone can request information from federal, state and local agencies . . ..” Electronic Frontier Foundation.
We frequently represent clients who have been injured by state or local government employees. Investigating these cases is often difficult because the facts and information about the case are in the hands of the very state or local officials who may have negligently caused the injury. Government agencies often attempt to prevent the facts from reaching the public. But Arizona law is on the side of openness, transparency and accountability.
Under Arizona law, “[p]ublic records and other matters in the custody of any officer shall be open to inspection by any person at all times during office hours.” Ariz.Rev.Stat. (“A.R.S.”) § 39–121 (2001). The purpose of this law is to make the actions of Arizona’s state and local governments transparent, open and accountable. Open government allows citizens and taxpayers to understood what government agencies and employees are doing in their name with their tax money. Open government also allows a knowledgeable citizenry to hold government agencies and employees accountable.
Arizona’s public records law applies to State government agencies (for example, the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Corrections) as well as to county and city governments within Arizona (for example, Maricopa County and the City of Phoenix.
We encourage all Arizonans to exercise their rights to lawfully obtain public records. Below are some links that will allow you to obtain public records. Please note that government agencies are permitted to charge copying fees for public records.
Sample public records request: https://www.nfoic.org/arizona-sample-foia-request
City of Phoenix Public Records Request Portal: https://www.phoenix.gov/pio/public-records-request
City of Mesa Public Records Request Portal: https://www.mesaaz.gov/city-hall/public-records-requests
Maricopa County Public Records Request Portal: https://www.maricopa.gov/4214/Public-Records
Pinal County Public Records Form: https://www.pinalcountyaz.gov/News/Documents/publicrecordsrequest.pdf
Arizona Department of Public Safety Public Record Request Portal: https://www.azdps.gov/services/public/records/public
Arizona Department of Corrections Public Records Request Portal: https://corrections.az.gov/public-resources/public-records
As to the Federal Government, you can submit an email, letter, or fax. Some organizations such as the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press have prepared forms to use. You must address your request to the federal agency that keeps your information. The Department of Justice has a drill down list to get the appropriate contact details. For a detailed instructions for how to request information from the Federal agencies here is a great resource.
We only have freedom so long as we have knowledge. It protects all of us. But freedoms are like muscles, they atrophy unless you exercise them. We encourage people to make sure that we continue to seek the truth from the government to keep ourselves free and our government honest.