This blog post is about FOILing the New York State Department of State.
FOILing is like pulling teeth in New York.
While making FOIL requests is presumed by law to be in the public interest, courts, for example, viciously punish FOILing (if judges are the subjects of FOIL) and viciously punish using documents obtained through FOIL requests - because such documents are obtained outside of the court-controlled discovery process.
I have been sanctioned tens of thousands of dollars for FOILing and lost my law license because a judge was too pissed off I FOILed the New York State Court Administration for his financial semi-annual reports - the reports were never provided to me.
Yet, once again, making a FOIL request is presumed to be in public interest, and I will continue doing it, and publishing the results, as my service to the public.
Today's blog is about New York State Department of State stalling my FOIL request and inventing illegal restrictions on satisfying such FOIL requests.
Here is the scan of the front webpage of the New York State Department of State. It prominently shows that people can file FOIL requests with the Department - on the left.
If you click on the FOIL button on the left, you will see this screen:
If you click on "email address: FOIL Request", you will see this:
As you see, you are not provided an e-mail address, as the previous screen promised.
I will provide it for you, though.
This is the e-mail address of NYS Department of States "Assistant Records Access officer", where FOIL requests can be made to the Department - the e-mail is obtained from the e-mail response of the Department to my FOIL request:
Here is what the response revealed.
I asked, by e-mail, for all public records on file with the Department regarding a certain corporation.
I asked on March 29, 2016.
The response must be made within 5 business days, as required by FOIL law.
Today I received a response indicating that:
1) there are records on file - 6 (six) documents;
2) copies of those records WILL NOT be released to me, unless:
a) I must either mail or fax my FOIL request - my e-mail FOIL request was not good enough for the Department, even though the Department answered within 5 business days; that was the first unlawful policy, the Department cannot mandate FOIL requests not to be filed by FOIL, especially if they have an "Email FOIL" page (as shown above);
b) I must pay a FLAT FEE (not $0.25 per page - see above) for each document they have on file; so, if the document is a 1-page document the New York State Department of State will charge you 20 times (!) more for it than Freedom of Information Law allows;
c) the Department does not provide copies of documents in digital format by e-mail, so I will have to agree to receiving those documents by mail - and I am thus forced to give the Department my mailing address.
While that is very convenient for some litigation, I admit, I didn't need it.
All I needed was for the New York State Department of State to follow the existing Freedom of Information law and provide me copies of the six documents the Department acknowledged it had on file, TODAY, by e-mail, for no fee (because a fee may not be charged for scanned copies unless major labor investment is involved in scanning, which cannot be said about scanning 6 documents on a high-speed scanner).
Of course, NONE of the above little "policies" is legal.
Freedom of Information Law has a presumption of disclosure.
If the Department of State imposes any restrictions, it must provide a statutory provision it relies upon in denying a FOIL request.
"Assistant Records Access Officer" Helen Wilbard provided none of the statutory grounds for the restrictive policies and for the denial of my FOIL request - but offered to be of "further assistance".
Let's remember that this particular individual has a job, with benefits, and receives a salary paid by New York taxpayers,
so that she would SATISFY legitimate FOIL requests, not to stall them.
I will, of course, file an administrative appeal of the denial of the FOIL request.
By the way, each agency which people are FOILing must have a chief officer to whom denials of FOIL requests can be administratively appealed, and that name and address must be mentioned in the letters denying FOIL requests.
Naturally, that name or address is neither on NYS DOS FOIL webpage, nor in Helen Wilbard's e-mail to me.
I will verify the name and address with Ms. Wilbard and publish it.
As of now, what we have is at least the e-mail address where anyone can file a FOIL request by e-mail and receive a confirmation that the FOIL request was made - without relying on the mercy of NYS DOS to acknowledge that a FOIL request was received through their website, because they send no such electronic confirmation.
Policies of the NYS DOS, as announced to me by Helen Wilbard, serve two purposes:
1) to sieve out people who make FOIL requests seeking free copies of records (digital copies to be sent by e-mail), or cheap copies of records (paper copies to be sent by mail at $0.25 per page), and instead
2) to concentrate on paid "expedited services", which are needed usually in litigation, thus gathering fees.
While there is nothing wrong for the New York State Department of State to engage in legitimate fee-generating activities, and I do not see anything illegal in their optional expedited fee schedule, NYS DOS should first comply with the deadlines and fee provisions of FOIL before thrusting their expensive expedited fee schedules onto FOIL inquirers.
Once again, here is the FOIL e-mail address to be used to FOIL the New York State Department of State, provided to you in this blog as my public service to you.
Enjoy and use.