Under the Colorado Open Records Act, you may obtain public records from any government agency in the state. All you need to do is make a written request for specific records and cite the actual state statute, C.R.S. 24-72-201 et seq. A good way to start your request is “Pursuant to the state open records law, C.R.S. 24-72-201 et seq., I request the following documents…."
I have authored this guide as the director of Colorado's Open Government Institute, and as a response to many questions I've received from my law firm's clients about obtaining public records. If I can help you further, please don't hestitate to send me a message.
A note of caution before we begin: Defining "public" isn't always a source of agreement. Does a governor's cell phone records constitute a public record? What about texts between public employees? Police blotters? These are all records that have been subject to lawsuits in recent years. Noting, this, however, arming yourself with the tools necessary to request a record that is relevant to your needs, most local and state agencies must provide you the documents you have requested.
The Student Press Law Center has a great tool that will automatically generate an acceptable CORA request. All you have to do is fill in the information specific to your request: http://www.splc.org/legalassistance/foiletter.asp
If you use the letter generator, you should also include the following “if the document is available in electronic format, I request the document in electronic form." This can save you the costs of photocopies. Just as a strategic matter, if you use the letter generator, you should probably also delete the last paragraph warning the agency of penalties if it does not comply.
There is a presumption that all government records are open. The statute, however, lists certain documents that are exempt. If a government agency refuses to provide the records you have requested, it must cite the specific statutory exception it relies upon to deny the request. You should not allow an agency to deny a request without citing the specific statutory exception it claims applies. You can then look at the exact exception and determine if the exception actually applies. If it does not, write back and explain why you think the claimed exemption is not applicable.
Upon receiving a CORA request for a single document, the agency must respond in 3 days If the request is for multiple documents, the agency has 10 days to respond. If the agency uses the 10 day extension, it must let you know within three days it intends to use the extension.
Include the amount of money you are willing to spend on the request. The agency can charge for its research time and up to .25 a copy. Be sure to include the upper limit of how much you are willing to spend on the request. For instance, you can say “if this request will cost more than $10.00, please contact me." You can then decide to proceed or not. You can also ask to have the records “made available" to you, without asking for copies. If this case, you can review hundreds of documents and decide to only copy a few pages.
If you do not receive a timely response to your request, contact the agency’s supervising attorney. Generally, they will insure you get a response. If the agency still does not comply, you may have to consider contacting a lawyer.
It is also a good idea to call the agency and ask if you can get the documents for free. The worst they can say is “no." It is at this point, that you will send an official CORA request.
(NOTE: PROCEDURES FOR OBTAINING PUBLIC RECORDS VARY DEPENDING ON WHICH STATE AGENCY OR OTHER GOVERNMENTAL ENTITY HOLDS THE DOCUMENTS REQUESTED)
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