I think the GRC should change the way it handles OPRA cases.
As some of you know from reading this blog or experience, the Government Records Council handles OPRA complaints. The GRC procedure has several advantages. There are no filing fees; communication via the GRC can be done by email or fax; the GRC does not have complicated procedural rules; and there is no time limit to filing a complaint.
But there are also drawbacks.
According to the GRC’s website, which I checked just before writing this post, has seven staff members. One is the Acting Executive Director, one is descriobed as a ”secretary”, one is a “communications manager/information specialist,” one is a mediator, and the remaining three are case managers.
According to the GRC’s website, from 2005 to 2010, the GRC received an average of 282 complaints each year, which amounts to about 94 complaints per year, per case manager. That strikes me as a heavy caseload.
Thus, it shold come as no surprise that it takes the GRC between six to 18 months to decide cases, and many of the cases I’ve filed are closer to the 18 month range. Eighteen months is way too long. These cases are not complex commercial transactions. They must be resolved quickly.
I tried to think of another institution that succesfully handles lots of similar claims quickly and efficiently. The Special Civil Part of Superior Court immediately came to mind. The Special Civil Part handles lawsuits valued at $15,000 or less (this includes small claims court cases).
The process in Special Civil is very simple and relatively expediated. The filing fee is, in general, less than $60. A docket number is assigned quickly, and a response must be filed, usually in about 35 days. Parties have the option to request discovery, but many parties don’t. A trial date is scheduled quickly, usually in 1-3 months. On the day of trial, all parties are required to go to mediation. The mediators are volunteer lawyers who are trained in mediation. In mediation is where most cases are settled, so that the Court doesn’t have to get involved. For the few cases that go to trial, the trials tend to be short, less than a day.
While it might take some work in the beginning, I think the GRC should consider transforming itself from its current model, in which case managers produce 10-20 page opinions that contain thorough recitations of the facts and the law, to a system that gets the parties in front of a mediator or decision-maker faster, and gets the issues resolved faster and more efficiently.