Lawyers for the Department of Children's Services say they will appeal a judge's ruling limiting how much the agency can charge the public for records of children who died or nearly died after being brought to its attention.
Instead of the 50-cent per page cost ordered by Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Carol McCoy on April 17, lawyers for the state Attorney General's office said DCS intends to attach thousands of dollars to the cost of releasing 50 children's records - including fees to hire, train and supervise outside paralegals to review the records before making them public.
The agency's notice came late Friday, two weeks after McCoy ordered DCS to turn over to The Tennessean and a media coalition the records of 50 children who died or nearly died after having some contact with the state's $630 million child welfare agency while they were alive. McCoy said the agency is required by federal law to release information about child deaths and must bear the cost of redacting any information.
DCS' new estimate of $8,896.17 for 1,600 pages of records for 42 of those children - the agency said it is unable to provide records for eight of them - would put the total cost at about $5 a page or an average of $212 for each case.
Since October, The Tennessean has been seeking records of children who were either in state custody, being actively investigated by DCS or whose case files had been closed by DCS sometime in the three years preceding their deaths or near deaths. The newspaper asked for the records to be able to make public what happened to those children, spotlight any trends in child deaths and determine what steps DCS took to protect children.
DCS has repeatedly declined to make public any of its records, instead providing a series of summaries that in some cases provided contradictory information on children's ages or dates of death and that did not outline any of the steps the agency had taken.
On Dec. 19, The Tennessean led a group of news agencies in filing suit to gain access to the records.
DCS' latest filing contains its third revised cost estimate for providing those files and includes 295.5 hours of hourly wages for paralegals and staff to review records printed from the agency's computer database.
A previous estimate put a cost of $34,225 for more than 200 records of children who died or nearly died between 2009 and mid-2012. DCS' first cost estimate for the 200 records was $55,584 and included mileage and hourly wage charges for DCS staff to travel 7,000 miles to hand-deliver records. Those charges are no longer included.
DCS and media organizations return to court May 10.