Arpaio v. Davis – 6/2/2009

June 17, 2009

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Affirms that Arizona Supreme Court Rule 123 Governs Requests for Judicial Records and a Presiding Judge May Appoint Another Judge on the Same Court to Perform an Administrative Review of Requested Records.

Sheriff Arpaio’s office sent several judicial records requests to the Maricopa County Superior Court.  The requests were made under Arizona’s Public Records Law and asked for all e-mails, memoranda, notes, and letters to or from various court personnel for the period of time from November 1, 2007, to December 7, 2007.  The requests contained no other limiting criteria.  The Court Administrator denied the requests on multiple grounds:  (1) they should have been made under Supreme Court Rule 123; (2) they lacked sufficient specificity; (3) they would create an undue financial burden and interfere with the court’s operations; and (4) they sought documents that were judicial work product or administrative records, which are not subject to public inspection.  Thereafter, the Sheriff filed a formal Request for Administrative Review.  Judge Norman Davis conducted a review on the merits and upheld the denial of the records request.  This special action followed.

The Arizona Appeals Court affirmed that Rule 123 governs requests for judicial records.  The Court concluded that Rule 123 is consistent with other public records laws in that the rule strikes an appropriate balance between the public’s interest in providing access to court records and the government’s interest in avoiding requests that impose an undue financial burden, are duplicative, or substantially interfere with court operations.  The Court further concluded that Judge Davis properly performed the administrative review because, contrary to the Sheriff’s argument, Judge Davis is not a subordinate employee of the presiding judge; Judge Davis is independently elected and his resulting decision was not subject to approval by the presiding judge.  Lastly, the Court found that Judge Davis did not abuse his discretion in upholding the Maricopa County Superior Court’s refusal to comply with the records request because an excessive amount of the court’s time would have been required to review the thousands of documents that fell within the Sheriff’s overbroad requests.

Judge Orozco authored the opinion; Judges Swann and Norris concurred.