Court Case Highlights Murky Area Between Discovery & the PIA

Daily Record article (2019-05-09) highlighted the murky area that exists between the Maryland Public Information Act (PIA) and discovery for a criminal or civil case. The article reported that Baltimore County has accused plaintiffs in an ongoing federal lawsuit against the County are trying to circumvent the normal discovery process by making PIA requests. The County has sent a letter to U.S. District Court Judge Deborah Chasanow asking for the Court’s intervention.

Court rules prohibit parties from engaging in discovery under a scheduling order is issued. The County alleged that plaintiffs are using the PIA as a workaround. From the article:

“In sum, Defendants take exception to Plaintiffs’ end-around of the normal discovery process, and request an audience with the Court to discuss a resolution to the issue,” [Baltimore County] attorney Neil E. Duke wrote.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Rignal W. Baldwin V fired back a letter Tuesday that accused the county of “confus(ing) public records, available as a matter of right, with the private information only available through discovery.”

The county has sought to discuss the issue with the federal court, but the plaintiffs argue the MPIA has remedies if the government believes it has a reason to withhold records. Chasanow had not taken any action as of Thursday afternoon.

The article noted the Maryland Court of Appeals has held that the PIA is not intended to allow parties to expand the scope of discovery or delay litigation but also that the rules of discovery are applicable to the PIA process.  There is no express prohibition in the PIA law against using the PIA for litigation purposes.

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