Q: I am helping a former inmate in Maine write a documentary on his case and we are trying to access a recording or a transcript of two conversations: the first took place at the prison and the second was a phone call that was made by the inmate from prison. We attempted to access them, but the prison authorities first said that they would release the information and then they told us that they could not release it and if I recall they said that they didn’t have the recording anymore. Can you help with this?
A: You may want to submit a written Freedom of Access Act request to the prison asking for copies of the recorded phone calls. Unfortunately, we here at the hotline are not as familiar with Maine’s FOAA as we are with California’s public records laws. But I can tell you that based on my experience with other states’ open records laws, there’s a presumption that records held by the government are subject to disclosure unless some exemption applies. The first step is always to simply submit a written request to the agency that holds the records, which should prompt a written response letting you know whether the agency has responsive records, and also any specific exemptions it may be claiming that might justify nondisclosure. You can find out more about Maine’s FOAA, including how to make a request under the act here: https://www.maine.gov/foaa/.
Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to FAC hotline inquiries. In responding to these inquiries, we can give general information regarding open government and speech issues but cannot provide specific legal advice or representation. No attorney-client relationship has been formed by way of this response.