A reporter contacted me recently to check on availability of logs of phone calls made by prisoners in the county jail. She knew she'd accessed that information before, but it had been some time. When she made a preliminary inquiry, in preparation for making her request, she was told she'd need a subpoena to access this information.
I was a little baffled because this clearly constitutes information which is being retained by the public body -- the sheriff's department. Public records are, by definition, all records "retained" by the public governmental body. What reason was there that this information was not available?
Since the sunshine law requires the public body to cite the exception that closes any public record, I suggested to her that she formalize her request into a letter, asking the public body to release the information to her or to cite the exception that allowed them to withhold the data. I know that the sunshine law does NOT require requests for access to be in writing -- an oral request for information is still subject to the sunshine law. But sometimes, I've found, preparing a written request makes the public body take it a little more seriously. Certainly it gives you clear proof just when your request was made (in terms of the 72 hour window) and by asking for a response in writing, you nail down, in terms of the public body, just what reason they think would close the record.
Sure enough, it now appears the body is going to produce this information. The public body just needed to think a little more clearly about whether they had a right to say "no" to this request. I certainly will NEVER advocate that the "writing" requirement be added to the law, but it's a strong tool for requesters to use when they are getting the run-around from a public body!