The following is intended to be a summary, in question and answer format, of the Public Records Law. The full text of this law can be found at La. R.S. 44:1, et seq. The following is not intended to constitute legal advice, but is merely intended to summarize the provisions of this law. By its very nature, this is a general presentation. All laws are subject to interpretation based upon the particular facts involved. Additionally, all laws are subject to change, both by legislative action and court decisions, and the following should be understood accordingly. No attempt has been made to identify all exceptions that might exist.
What is a “public record”?
Louisiana law defines a “public record” as “[a]ll books, records, writings, accounts, letters and letter books, maps, drawings, photographs, cards, tapes, recordings, memoranda, and papers, and all copies, duplicates, photographs, including microfilm, or other reproductions thereof, or any other documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, including information contained in electronic data processing equipment, having been used, being in use, or prepared, possessed, or retained for use in the conduct, transaction, or performance of any business, transaction, work, duty, or function which was conducted, transacted, or performed by or under the authority of the constitution or laws of this state, or by or under the authority of any ordinance, regulation, mandate, or order of any public body or concerning the receipt or payment of any money received or paid by or under the authority of the constitution or the laws of this state.”
Every record made or received by the LCG is presumed to be a public record, unless it is subject to an exemption. Public records exempt from disclosure are those that federal, state or local law prohibits the LCG from disclosing or permits the LCG to decline to disclose. For example, the United States and Louisiana Constitutions prohibit the LCG to disclose a public record in a manner that would violate an individual’s right to privacy.
A complete listing of applicable exemptions appears in La. R.S. 44:4.1.
What is a “custodian”?
Louisiana law defines the “custodian” of a public record as “the public official or head of any public body having custody or control of a public record, or a representative specifically authorized by him to respond to requests to inspect any such public records.”
What are the duties of the custodian of the requested public record?
The custodian of records must either give you a copy of the requested record or provide you with a written justification of why the record is not public. The LCG is not required to create a document in response to a request. Nor is the LCG required to honor prospective requests. The custodian may determine the format in which the public record is made available.
Who may request a public record?
Any person of the age of majority may request a public record.
How do I obtain a copy of a public record in Lafayette?
To review or receive a copy of a public record, you must first make a request to the “custodian” of the document in question. Usually, this is the director of the department which has the records which you wish to review. For example, if you are interested in reviewing a copy of a report from the Department of Public Works, you should direct your request to the Director that Department.
Do I have to make my request in writing?
No. You may make an oral or written request, in person or through the mail. However, it is strongly recommended that you put your request in writing so there is a clear record of your request. A written request that is clear and concise also helps the custodian to respond to your request in a timely and efficient manner.
What do I need to say in my request?
There is no specific form that must be used to request records, nor is there any language you must use in your request. For your convenience, you may wish to click on the link at the bottom of the page where we have provided a form for making a request. You must provide a reasonable description of the desired records. To expedite processing of your request, you should be as specific as possible.
When may I review a public record?
Examinations of records must be conducted during regular office or working hours, unless the custodian authorizes examination of records in other than regular office or working hours. In this latter event, the persons designated to represent the custodian during such examination shall be entitled to reasonable compensation to be paid to them by the public body having custody of such record, out of funds provided in advance by the person examining such record in other than regular office or working hours.
How long does a LCG department have to respond to my request?
Generally, the public record should be made immediately available, unless it is then in use by a governmental employee or if there is a question as to whether it is exempt from production. In the latter case, if it is not clear that the requested document is, or is not, subject to an exemption, the custodian must inform you of that fact within seventy-two hours.
How much may the Department charge me for responding to the request?
The Department may not charge any fees to cover the time and costs incurred in searching for, locating or collecting records to respond to your request, except as noted above if the examination is conducted in other than regular office or working hours. The Department may not charge you to view its records.
The Department may charge you for the duplication of copies of records. For routinely produced documents, such as copies of an agenda, the LCG may charge a reasonable fee. Where you request a copy of a record in other than a paper format, the Department may charge you for the cost of the medium on which the information is duplicated (e.g., a computer disc).
In addition, a Department may charge you for the postage of sending you the records.
If the custodian denies the request, is he or she required to give me a written log listing the documents the LCG is refusing to disclose?
No. Although the LCG is required to provide a written justification giving the legal reason why the record is not public, the law does not require the LCG to provide to you a document log.