Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s counsel estimated it would cost more than $5,800 to produce records requested by The Associated Press relating to COVID-19 and business, health and local government groups as the state weighed policies about reopening.
In an emailed response to a Maryland Public Information Act request, the counsel for the governor wrote that more than 5,700 records between April 12 and May 22 had been identified as potentially relevant. It would take more than 10 working days to produce the records in the state's possession, according to the June 8 email from Christopher Mincher, the senior deputy legal counsel.
Mincher wrote that it would take about 57 hours for an attorney to review the documents for material that would be exempt from disclosure and 23 hours for a paralegal to produce them.
The mid-April to late May time frame was a significant one in Maryland's response to the virus.
Hogan, a Republican, introduced the state's recovery plan for a gradual reopening on April 24. On May 13, Hogan announced the beginning of Stage One of the plan. It lifted the state's stay-at-home order that was announced on March 30 and allowed some reopening of retail stores with limits.
That decision came after consultation with a state team of public health experts and business leaders.
The Associated Press filed open-records requests in May seeking copies of communications between governors’ offices across the U.S. and health, business and local government organizations during a critical period when they were considering reopening plans after coronavirus shutdowns. Thousands of pages of emails provided to the AP show that governors were inundated with reopening advice from a wide range of industries, and sometimes allowed businesses to help write the rules for their own operations.
After a follow-up request by the AP to narrow the search in Maryland, Mincher responded by saying that 2,066 potentially relevant documents were found. It would take about 20 hours for an attorney to review the documents and 10 hours for a paralegal to prepare, potentially redact and produce the documents, the email said.
Omitting charges for the first two hours of searching and preparation as required by law, Mincher wrote the anticipated cost would be $1,972.88.
“This estimate would not include the fees associated with copying the documents,” he wrote.
The AP received records at no cost from at least 15 states. A few states, including Maryland, sought to charge the AP hundreds or thousands of dollars. Many others still haven’t provided records, citing delays in complying with open-records laws because of the coronavirus.
Hogan, who was chairman of the National Governors Association until earlier this month when his term ended, took an early and aggressive response to battling the coronavirus in Maryland, bringing praise from supporters but criticism from those who said the response was devastating businesses.