Working on behalf of freelance journalists Hilke Schellmann and Clara McMichael, the University of Georgia School of Law’s First Amendment Clinic has shaken loose documents from Atlanta Public Schools (“APS”) that the journalists had been seeking for more than eight months.

 APS is one of the largest public-school systems in Georgia, with an annual budget of $1.45 billion and over 5,000 employees. The documents relate to its hiring practices, a matter of key public concern.

Schellmann and McMichael initially filed their request under Georgia’s Open Records Act in March 2022. APS responded, but with an estimated cost of more than $10,000 to produce the records.

Unlike the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and other states’ freedom of information laws, the Georgia Open Records Act contains no fee-waiver provision, even where the disclosure of the requested documents would serve the public good. Schellmann and McMichael’s attempts to engage APS about a voluntary fee waiver received no response.

The First Amendment Clinic began working with the journalists during the Fall 2022 semester, sending a letter to APS that objected to the prohibitive cost of the records and urged that the fees be waived as a matter of public interest.

After further advocacy and negotiations by the Clinic, and submission of a narrowed request, APS produced a tranche of responsive records in December 2022, free of charge.

Thanks to Clinic Legal Fellow Allyson Veile and Clinic Student Warren “Ren” Schmitt for their work on this matter.

Hands over a laptop keyboard, with illustrations of records reflected on the screen.

The Issue

Government Transparency

Georgia’s legislature finds that transparent government is essential to a free, open, and democratic society. The state’s “sunshine laws” guarantee access to the public records and public meetings of local and state government agencies. The First Amendment and Georgia’s uniform superior court rules also protect the public’s right to observe court proceedings and review court…

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