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Town of Chevy Chase Violated the Maryland Public Information Act, ACT Says

Press release issued May 11, 2015

The Town of Chevy Chase violated the Maryland Public Information Act by discriminating against the Action Committee for Transit because of ACT's support for the Purple Line, the citizen group stated in a legal filing today. The town demanded exorbitant fees for access to public records about the Town's lobbying, ACT said.

Since December 2013, the town government has paid over half a million dollars to the lobbying and law firm of the brother of Rep. Bill Shuster, who chairs the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. ACT, a grass-roots citizen group that supports the Purple Line, asked the town government for public documents about the lobbying in order to inform the public of how the Town was spending its money.

The Town government demanded high fees from ACT before it would even begin searching for documents. In January, ACT sued the Town government under the Maryland Public Information Act for denying its request for a waiver of those fees because the information was in the public interest.

ACT’s legal filing explains that the Town government's response to the lawsuit cited ACT's publications against the Town for the Town’s opposition to the Purple Line as a reason for insisting on the fees. This basis is not permitted under the Maryland Public Information Act, as the Constitution prohibits viewpoint discrimination, the filing continues.

"Free speech is a fundamental right in our country," said ACT vice-president Ronit Aviva Dancis. "Governments don't get to deny access to public records to people who disagree with them."

ACT is being represented on a pro bono basis by the law firm of Baker Hostetler. The lawsuit asks the court to require the town government to grant ACT access to the public documents without a fee and to award attorney fees and costs to Baker Hostetler.

The full text of the ACT filing and attached exhibits is being posted on this page of ACT's website.