The Public Access Ombudsman’s Office is open but staff currently are working entirely remotely.
Maryland State Government is operating under policies intended to minimize the spread of COVID-19 while maintaining operations to the fullest extent possible. While we are attempting to conduct business as usual, working remotely means that our attempts to resolve PIA disputes with a variety of state and local government programs may be slower/less efficient than normal. Additionally, at the present time and for the foreseeable future, we are not receiving regular mail sent to us at 200 St. Paul Pl. in Baltimore.
You can also call us at 410-576-6050 and leave a voicemail message to which we will respond as soon as possible. Please be sure to leave a contact email, if possible, so that we may write back to you.
We will make every effort to respond as quickly as possible, and thank you for your patience.
Maryland Department of Health – Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Information
There are resources available on the Maryland Department of Health website. The link is: https://phpa.health.maryland.gov/Pages/Novel-coronavirus.aspx.
- Available on their website, The Office of the Attorney General has issued the 15th edition of its PIA Manual. 11/24/20
- Video of Law Enforcement PIA Training conducted for the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office via Microsoft Teams. Link to slideshow that goes with video. 11/17/20
- Watch the Virtual Training conducted by the Ombudsman with Judge David Carey at MML’s Academy for Excellence in Local Government Conference on 10/9/20. Published with the permission of MML. Note. The Academy cannot give course credit for those who did not participate in the live version. PIA Part I, PIA Part II 11/4/20
- PIA in the News. Public records access and dispute resolution in Maryland have been delayed during coronavirus pandemic, ombudsman says. BALTIMORE SUN. 10/30/20
- Ombudsman testifies to the Maryland Legislature’s Government Operations and Health Facilities Subcommittee. Watch here. 10/29/20
- FOIA/PIA in the News. “Public Records Requests Fall Victim to the Coronavirus Pandemic“. Washington Post. 10/1/20
- Comments of the Ombudsman. An appendix to the PIA Compliance Board 5th Annual report published in September 2020.
- New Blog Post from the Public Access Ombudsman: New Court Rules Govern Access to Judicial Records 7/30/20
The Ombudsman makes reasonable attempts to help applicants and records custodians resolve their disputes regarding certain aspects of the Public Information Act, which are listed in § 4-1B-04 of the General Provisions Article. The Ombudsman cannot compel a custodian to produce a record, nor order a requester to alter the request, but rather serves as a mediator between them. Specific types of disputes include:
- Custodian’s application of an exemption;
- Redactions of information in the public record;
- Failure of a custodian to produce a public record in a timely manner or to disclose all records relevant to the request;
- Overly broad requests for records;
- Amount of time a custodian needs to produce public records;
- A request for or denial of a fee waiver; and
- Repetitive or redundant requests from an applicant.
Depending on the type of dispute, a request may be submitted by the requester or by the records custodian. The requester and the records custodian are always encouraged to attempt to resolve their concerns before contacting the Ombudsman. The dispute will derive from the nature of the request and the basis for the records custodian’s response.
Timing: Once a request for mediation is submitted to the Ombudsman and both parties consent to mediation, the applicable due dates are held in abeyance pending the outcome of the mediation. This differs from the schedule that applies to a complaint submitted to the Public Information Compliance Board. See “how do I file a complaint with the PIACB” for due dates and procedures. Examples include:
- A requester receives a response to a PIA request that claims an exemption or redacts information from the record—the request for mediation may be submitted immediately upon receipt.
- For a mediation request based on an untimely response (or no response within the required time period), there needs to be a passage of time sufficient to establish the delay. Allow enough time for the custodian to respond.
- A custodian who receives a request that might benefit from the Ombudsman’s services should submit a request for mediation immediately.