How to get Oregon public records

In theory, Oregon's public records law makes it quick and simple for people to get documents that are in the possession of a state or local gov't agency. You just need to ask the agency. No form is required. An email to the agency head saying "this is a public records request for" followed by a description of the document is all it should take. If they don't respond to an email, call the office's secretary and ask for an email response. The agency can charge actual costs, but if your request is related to a public purpose you can ask for a fee waiver. The agency is required to make a pro-forma response "as soon as practicable" and make "proper and reasonable" efforts to get you the documents promptly. If you want a pdf of the documents or a machine readable file instead of a paper dump, just ask.

In practice, Oregon's public records law has a big loophole - a "proper and reasonable" standard for compliance, rather than a firm deadline. Most other states have deadlines and most of those that do give agencies no more than 5 working days to provide the documents. This document compares Oregon's practice to that of other states.
Government agencies use several strategies to prevent releasing documents that they prefer to keep secret. First, they will argue that they are busy. The second strategy is to try to intimidate you with exorbitant fee estimates. The third is to argue that your request is vague or confusing to them. The fourth strategy is delay. Particularly paranoid agencies, for example the University of Oregon and its General Counsel Melinda Grier, will use a sequence of these strategies, with a week or two of delay to your clarifying questions thrown in. This can be devilishly effective if you lack persistence. Keep at it and they will crack.

In theory, if the agency tries to use these tactics to avoid its public responsibility there is a simple solution. Send an email to Oregon Attorney General John Kroger at, explain that you made a public records request and were ignored/denied, and ask that he issue a "public records order" or PRO requiring the agency to give you the documents and/or waive the fees. CC the AG's Government Transparency Czar, Michael Kron, at By state law, the AG has a week to order compliance or to deny your petition and justify the denial. You will get an official response to your petition, probably from Deputy Attorney General Mary Williams. The response will deny or grant your petition and it will explain why with reference to applicable law and past DOJ PRO decisions.

Importantly, the DOJ will bill the state agency from which you are trying to get the records for the cost of writing the PRO opinion. The DOJ charges $137 an hour, and the typical opinion costs the agency about $1200. As the petitioner you pay nothing. Therefore, if you are requesting a fee waiver on the grounds of public interest, I suggest you mention in your original PR request that you may well petition in case of a fee waiver denials, and that you ask the agency to consider the potential cost of such a petition when deciding whether or not to grant your waiver request. This is a new strategy, lets see if it works.

In practice, the DOJ may well deny your petition. They will often so so with reference to their past PRO rulings. During the Hardy Myers years these rulings were very hostile to PR access. While we hope this is changing under Kroger, the jury is still out. If your petition is denied, you need to get a lawyer and challenge the denial in Marion Circuit Court. If the court rules in your favor, the DOJ (or maybe the agency) has to pay your legal fees. Good luck!