Public Record Requests 101: The 7 steps to obtaining public records.

Step 1: First you need to determine what records you want to inspect. Remember, you are requesting specific documents rather than general information. It is helpful to make your request as specific as possible.

Step 2: Next you must determine who maintains custody of the records you want to inspect. Requests to inspect public records should be directed to the public “officer” who maintains custody of the records. It is wise to first check the agency’s web site and look for a request form or contact the public body directly. For help locating the custodian for specific types of records go to http://www.lib.az.us/records/access.cfm.

Step 3: Do your research. Collect as much information as you can from search engines and web sites. Our website might be helpful. Go to www.azoca.gov and click on public records and then links.

If you do not have access to a computer or the Internet, look in the front of the phone book for government listings.

Step 4: Once you have determined what records you want to inspect and where they are located, you must request the public records. The Arizona Public Records Law no longer requires the submission of a written request for “non-commercial” matters. If an oral request is denied, however, you should submit a written request for access to the documents to the head of the public body involved. The request should be drafted narrowly, identifying the documents to be inspected with as much precision as possible.

Step 5: Wait for a response. The custodian of the public record is obligated to promptly furnish the requested records. What constitutes prompt will depend on what is reasonable under the circumstances. Some requests will require greater time for the custodian of the records to review and determine whether certain information should be deleted from the records. If the turnaround time is not set forth on the public records request form, ask how long it is anticipated to take. Regardless, call after a week to verify that they did in fact receive and process your request.

Step 6: Should your request be denied, you may appeal the denial through a special action in the superior court. But first, you might consider contacting the Arizona Ombudsman – Citizens’ Aide for assistance. The Ombudsman is statutorily authorized to investigate complaints relating to public access laws, request testimony or evidence, issue subpoenas, conduct hearings, make recommendations, and report misconduct.

Step 7: Last resort. You decide to take it to court and lose. If that’s the case, the denial of access through a special action may be pursued in the Court of Appeals or Arizona Supreme Court in the appropriate circumstances.