Pro Se Power: How to sue for public records on your own

  • Event: 2017 IRE Conference
  • Speakers: David Cuillier of The University of Arizona; Craig Hoffman of Ballard Spahr LLP; Jorge Rojas of FOIA litigant
  • Date/Time: Saturday, Jun. 24 at 4:30pm
  • Location: Grand Canyon 6
  • Audio file: Only members can listen to conference audio

When agencies illegally deny you records, don’t take the law into your own hands: Take ‘em to court. As news organizations become less inclined to pay for litigation, more journalists and citizens are having to sue for records on their own. Learn the basics of filing a public records suit at the local or federal level, and how to tap into legal resources to get a sense for how strong a case you might have to avoid setting bad case law.

Speaker Bios

  • David Cuillier, Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of Arizona School of Journalism, is a former newspaper journalist and now teaches data journalism, media law, and access to public records. He is president of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, former president of the Society of Professional Journalists, and co-authored The Art of Access: Strategies for Acquiring Public Records. Reach him at [email protected], or on Twitter @David.Cuillier.

  • Craig Hoffman is a litigation partner at Ballard Spahr LLP in Phoenix, Arizona. He practices in a wide variety of areas, including media and entertainment law. His media and entertainment law practice involves representation of members of the media in defamation, privacy, and related First Amendment litigation.

  • Jorge Rojas: Air Traffic Control student who is fighting for information about the changes to the Federal Aviation Administration's hiring process for air traffic controllers. Has sued FAA both pro-se and with counsel a total of five times. Winner of 2015 Arizona Newspapers Association Non-Media FOIA Award. Arizona State University graduate, currently in DC interning for aviation company on a FAA contract. @CTIConnection

Related Tipsheets

  • Pro Se Power! Acquiring Public Records by Filing Suit
    Time and time again we have seen journalists and citizens denied public record requests and left with no recourse other than to sue. Yet, how many journalists – or journalism organizations – have the resources or gumption to file a lawsuit? Unfortunately, very few, and research shows fewer news organizations are willing to sue. The intimidation factor itself is the largest barrier, and a lot of government agencies know that, following the unwritten policy of only releasing sensitive records when a suit is actually filed. You can stand up to that. Sometimes simply filing a lawsuit will dislodge the records, and at minimum it makes for a good news peg to expose unnecessary government secrecy. This handout will walk you through the pro se (pronounced “pro say”) process of suing on your own, and where you can get the resources to cover your costs. You can do it!

  • Pro Se Power! Suing for public records on your own
    WARNING: This is not legal advice.