Public records legislation in every state aims to make government workings transparent for the community, providing access to a wide range of documents to anyone who needs them. In most cases, public records custodians do not require identity verification or reasons for accessing these records, but some documents contain personal information that falls within the scope of laws protecting the privacy of the individual.
The law that governs public records in Maine is the Freedom of Access Act. It covers records produced and received by state government agencies but excludes records in the custody of federal bodies operating on its territory. In order to uphold the stipulations in the FOAA, Maine has created the position of public access ombudsman. The ombudsman is responsible for reviewing complaints regarding public agencies' compliance with the law and acts as mediator in the resolution of these complaints. The person in this position is also in charge of informing any interested party -- individuals, media, and government officials -- about what the law requires. They also work jointly with the Right to Know Advisory Committee to improve the law, reflecting new legislative and public developments.
In a further effort to ensure that everyone is granted unobstructed access to its public records, the state of Maine has put in place an appeal procedure. Anyone believing the FOAA has been violated can seek relief at one of the state's Superior Courts. In case the law violation is found to have been willful, Maine's Attorney General or any District Attorney can bring an enforcement action and seek penalties of up to $500.
Making a Public Records Request
There is no standardized application form for public record requests and there is no single custodian of these records in Maine, as in all other states. Basically, every government agency keeps the records that pertain to its functions, which could serve as a starting tip when embarking on a public records search. There is a helpful list of contacts at Maine.gov, where you can browse public offices including the State Controller, the Maine Revenue Services, the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations, the Maine Emergency Management Agency, the Governor, the Maine Housing Authority, and the Attorney General.
A rule of thumb when making a public records request is to be as specific as possible in explaining what records you need. If possible, include information about the particular document's author, date of creation and title. In case this is impossible, try to describe the type of record that you are looking for in as much detail as you can, including a timeframe and the record's subject. This will help the record custodians do their job more quickly and effectively, which will ultimately benefit you, saving you time and money; too broad a request will yield a lot of documents, and fees for public record access are usually set per document.
Some Types of Public Records
For legislative, legal and government records, you can send an email request to the Maine State Law and Legislative Reference Library. The average response time for such requests is three working days. If the records you need are available in electronic form, they will be sent to you by email but if they are only available as hard copies, the Library will mail them to you, fax them or deliver them with FedEx. Bear in mind that these options involve additional delivery fees. The Library also advises that if your request is likely to be lengthy or more complex, it is better submitted by mail to the address given at the website.
If you want to check somebody's driving history, you can do so via the website of the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. This option only yields uncertified records. For certified driving history records, you will need to contact the Bureau by phone at 207-624-9000, extension 52116. The online database has two types of records, either for the past three years or for the past ten years. The fee for the search depends on the type. One other thing to be aware of is that driving history records shown to you will not include personal information such as address or social security number of the driver for privacy reasons. What they do include is name, date of birth, whether or not the person is a habitual offender, and driving accidents and convictions.
For court records, you can either contact the court that has heard the case or cases you need, or you can get in touch with the Maine Judicial Branch via the Maine state website. There is no standard online application procedure, so make sure to follow the recommendations about submitting a public records request listed above.
At the Maine State Archives you can get historical records from an extensive range of areas, including judicial records, legislative documents, military records, social and economic records, land records, and genealogical documents, as well as vital records. Some of these are in digital format but some are only accessible on site.
Birth and death certificates, marriage records, domestic partnership records, and divorce records are considered private for a certain period of time after they are issued. For birth certificates this period is 75 years, for marriage records it is 50 years, and for death records the period is 25 years. This means that recent vital records can only be accessed by individuals covering the eligibility criteria, as listed by the custodian, the Data, Research and Vital Statistics unit of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.
Eligible individuals include: the person named on the record, their spouse or domestic partner, parent or parents named on the record, descendants to the most remote degree, legal guardians and representatives of the person, and genealogists who hold a researcher card issued by the Data, Research and Vital Statistics.
There are no standardized application forms for vital records, but there are lists containing the information that you need to include in your request. These can be found at the Maine state website listed above. The request has to be accompanied by a valid proof of identity containing a photo. Copies of vital records can be requested either in person, by mail (this request should include a long, self-addressed and stamped envelope), or online.