Many of the documents offered on this site have come from Open Records Requests, and if you want to extend your research beyond the easy availability of the internet, this is a good way to do that. There is a lot of useful information that is not found online, but contains crucial information that will paint a complete picture of a subject. If you are unfamiliar with this process, we hope this article will give you a start to understanding how this type of investigation is done.
Although much of this information applies to any type of investigation, our information given here is based on the assumption that you would like to further your investigation into a drug rehab program or facility, more specifically Narconon. We will also give you links to other sources of information which have helped us learn about this process, what our rights and responsibilities are, and how to go about getting the information you want.
What is an Open Records Request?
To answer that question, we must first define Open Records. Government agencies collect and produce all kinds of information, and since that information is largely paid for with public funds (your tax dollars), they have policies that govern who can access that information. For the most part, it is surprisingly available to ordinary people for the asking. That information is referred to as an open record. The laws that govern access to this information are sometimes also referred to as “Sunshine Laws,” “Right to know,” or “Freedom of Information”, or quite simply, public records laws. While the laws may be called different names in different places, they all refer to your right to know what your government is doing.
Open Records provide for accountability of our governments to us, the citizens. There are different types of Open Records in the United States – federal, state, city, county, and possibly others, depending on the location. Outside of the US, there are different laws for different countries, which are beyond the scope of this primer. Wikipedia’s article on Freedom of information laws by country is a good starting point, as is reading the actual laws for each country.
“Open Records Request” is a generic term that refers to the method and process of asking for access to available government information. It may be a formally written letter, an application form which you must fill out to specify what you are interested in, an email, or a simple phone call to the right person. The method required depends on what agency you are asking for the records from.
U.S. Federal Government
The federal government enacted the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in 1966, which went into effect in 1967. It defines the access allowed to the federal government’s documents, how to obtain those documents, and what the government may withhold. The federal government has a complete site devoted to the Freedom of Information Act, located at http://www.foia.gov/. You should be able find anything you need for requesting documents from the federal government on the site.
States, Cities, and Counties
If you are researching drug rehab, education, and detox facilities, most of your work will be done with the state, city, and county levels of government, because while there are a few federal laws which cover all health care providers, licensing of these providers is usually done at the state level. Food safety inspections, in the case of an inpatient or residential rehab facility, are also performed at the state level. Police records may be kept at any of these levels, depending on what jurisdiction specific laws fall under. 911 Emergency Call and Response records are usually kept at a county level, but sometimes may be at the city level. Zoning and building codes are usually enforced at the county level, possibly with additional requirements at the city level, and may also come into play when investigating a drug rehab facility.
Getting a complete set of records for a facility may require you to familiarize yourself with the specifics (laws, agencies, and other authorities) of each location, and you must determine who the correct authorities are for your own needs. But don’t let this deter you – it sounds complicated when explaining generally, but when you focus on one location, it is not as difficult as it sounds.
The Legal System – Court Documents
In many places, the Judicial branch does not fall under typical Open Records laws for government agencies, but instead, they have their own laws regarding accessibility. Most of the state courts, and therefore lower courts for that state, have laws that do allow citizens to have access to the filings in a case. Depending on the court, some of these legal documents may be available online for a fee, but many will require that you either make a trip to the courthouse for copies, or write to the Clerk of the Court to request them. Sometimes, one of the lawyers for the case may be willing to provide copies as a courtesy, but they are not required to do so.
Costs of Information
In some instances, the cost of this type of information is set by the laws governing its availability. Other times, it is set, seemingly arbitrarily, by the agency who provides copies. In many places, inspecting the information is free, but having copies made requires a fee be paid for each page. We have seen the costs range from $ .10 a page to $3.00 per page. If the information can be sent to you in digital format, on a disk or online, the cost may be lower. In short, we can’t give you an estimate because the costs vary so widely from place to place.
A Few Words of Encouragement and Advice
We realize that this page of instructions may sound daunting, and sometimes getting the records you want will be exactly that, but it is a rewarding experience to obtain this type of infomation and make it available to others. Sometimes you may feel, as we have, that the agencies or courts don’t really want to make this information available to you, the ordinary citizen, but are forced to by law. We sympathize. In some instances, that is actually true!
Just remember that you are the citizen, and as such you have a right to obtain certain information, so long as it does not fall in the realm of legal exclusion by virtue of privacy rights, HIPAA regulations, national security, or for other similar reasons. Before we give you our links, we’d like to leave you with this:
Transparency is the sine qua non of the common-law tradition we have inherited; without it, the snakes come.
— United States Magistrate Judge Stephen W. Smith
Kudzu in the Courthouse: Judgments Made in the Shade, in The Federal Courts Law Review (July 12, 2009)
Licensing Agency Inspection Reports
If you’d like to obtain licensing agency inspection reports, our Drug Rehab Licensing – State Agencies page will give you a head start in getting to the right agencies. It lists the drug rehab licensing agencies for all of the 50 states in the U.S.
Courts in the United States
There are many courts in the United States. Wikipedia has a overview of Courts of the United States and what sorts of legal actions they rule on, which may be a good starting point for you to locate the specific courts you are interested in.
United States Federal Courts
For cases in Federal Court, you will find dockets (the listing of filings in a case) and individual filings available on the PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) website. You must register in order to search the PACER database and there are some associated costs, but anyone can register.
The NCSC (National Center for State Courts) website will be of help in locating the web sites for state courts. A list by state is currently available on their State Court Web Sites page. Wikipedia has a good general overview of the subject of State Courts in the United States that may help you understand the differences between the various state courts.
County and City Courts
We have not found a single source listing all County or City Courts. There are some that have docket listings on the site, others which go a step further and have electronic access to filings, and some have no specific case information on their site at all. First try State and Local Government on the Net, a directory of official state, county, and city government websites. If that site doesn’t list the one you’re looking for, our next best suggestion for you to find these court websites is to do a search for the city or county, the state, and the word “court”. The results will return all kinds of sites, some of which will offer you access to the records for a fee. Some of these are not the official court websites, but sites that are seeking to capitalize on the difficulty in finding these courts. If the search engine is properly doing its rankings, however, the official site should appear at or near the top of the list.
Additional sites for People Seeking Access to Open Records Information
We have found some sites that were enlightening and helpful in our own quest for open records. You will likely notice a theme in these sites. Most are directed at journalists of one type or another, since journalists have traditionally been the people most interested in obtaining this type of information. However, you don’t have to be a journalist in the traditional sense to use their methods. We’ve compiled a list of these sites on our Links for Researchers page.
We hope we’ve given you enough information to get started on your quest for open records collecting. It can, at times, be a frustrating experience, but thanks to the laws that have been enacted specifically for this purpose, it is usually a straightforward process once you find the right agency to send your request to. If you acquire any Narconon-related records, please consider sending them to us so we can include them on this site. Contact us and we’ll let you know how to send them.