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Lawsuit Debates County's Control of Public Record Access (continued)
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Yet, what First American refused to note in this suit is that not only did it want access to these records for its own personal use, it also intended to sell the information it obtained from the county to others within the real estate and title insurance industry. Wolverton stated that this is a common practice for title plants and believes that the economic aspect leads to even more problems when one considers that the county pays to build the public record while First American relies on those efforts for its own monetary gain.

First American has asked the court to permanently enjoin the county recorder from withholding from the company the Public Records electronically maintained on the FTP site through excessive fees and restrictions; to order production of the Public Records improperly withheld from First American; and to award the title company its reasonable attorney’s fees and litigation costs.

“The judge threw out the FOIA complaint right away; it was almost out of hand,” Wolverton added. “Since they are in the business of making money with this information, they had no FOIA claim. It remains to be seen how the judge will rule on the other. We are preparing our interrogatories and our responses for the request to produce and a state’s attorney is handling the case for our office.”

Wolverton believes that the case will go before the judge in February, and that she will then rule on whether the county violated any terms of the county code, defining how records are made available to those seeking them in bulk format. The issue, according to Wolverton, is simply a matter of First American viewing the county office as a competitor and for being angry that they are expected to pay for something the county possesses. He said that First American wrongly views them as competition when in reality the big banking institutions are the true competition.

When asked about how he believed the court would decide the case, Wolverton seemed optimistic about the upcoming court date and said that his county has behaved within the statute of the law. The county merely asked that any entity demanding its information in bulk should pay a reasonable fee for that access.

“If they can show this is unreasonable, show me where this is an exorbitant fee for documents,” he added. “It is not just the cost of the CD, or what it costs to move the information from one place or another. Fifty cents for the entire document is more than reasonable… we try to make this a reasonable rate because we understand that businesses need this information to do more business. It’s to our benefit to give them this at the lowest possible cost. Why people would think we would pinch someone is beyond me. Like I have said, the courts will decide this.”

Source of Title will continue to follow this case and provide you with more information as it becomes available.



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