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Mon, July 22

Kramer: Sunshine Week - The ‘fake news’ deterrent

Ken Kramer

Ken Kramer

Editor’s Note — Sunshine Week runs March 10-15. Newspapers across the country will publish a variety of columns and stories about public records and the importance of transparency in government; some of that content will appear here this week. For more information, visit sunshineweek.org.

Public records are documents made by a government agency that are required to be kept and maintained.

Reporters love them. Public records form the backbone of many news stories. A reporter’s pay can be based on drumming up stories, so public records are of great value. Watch the newsroom waters churn when juicy public records are thrown in! Political scandal, big names, big money, controversy, sex or violence! Hold on to your boat! Those piranhas will bite hard.

Reporters can do a whole story on a public record. Example: A psychiatrist gets his license revoked by the state for having sex with a patient. Oh, that’s a good one — story! Hold the presses! Translate the legalese into everyday English, get a couple of comments from participants and it might be on the front page the next day.

Accusations of “fake news” could simply be countered with links to public records. “Unnamed sources,” “it was reported,” “some people say” — just can’t compare to the black and white of a mug shot, lawsuit or your mayor’s emails – all public records.

Attorneys love them. Public records can be a primary source of evidence. Peruse any lawsuit and you will see attorneys demanding the other side produce documents. The code language of attorneys, Latin, even has a phrase for demanding documents, Subpoena duces tecum: “A command for a witness to appear in court and produce documents.” As soon as the documents are entered into the court file they become a public record.

Private investigators love them. They are an essential element of some investigative agencies. By checking public records alone, an investigator can find criminal histories, lawsuits, property, habits, whereabouts, affiliations, reputation, or character of his target.

Some legislators hate them — apparently. They dream up legislation to hide public records. They’re constantly proposing Iron Walls to whittle away citizens’ rights to public records. This week you will see newspapers across the country pointing out laws and bills that restrict access to public records.

But reporters, attorneys, private investigators do not have a monopoly on public records.

There’s a reason they are called “public records.”

They are yours. Paid for by your tax dollars. Court records, property records, the emails of your local mayor. The list goes on.

Just dream up the record you’d like to obtain. If you don’t know whether it exists just ask the city, county, state or federal agency for it.

If a government agency withholds a public record it is their responsibility to tell you why.

Good luck to you in your research!

Kenneth Kramer is a private investigator and public records expert. His website, PsychSearch.net, a research division of DataSearch Inc., has the world’s largest collection of public records on psychiatrists.

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