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The nearly $600 in fees that the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority billed a Pensacola man for public records was “unreasonable and invalid,” said Escambia County Judge Pat Kinsey, who ruled Saturday that the fees charged by the agency violated Florida’s open records laws.

Kyle Kopytchak originally requested records and correspondence about backflow preventers back in March 2015. Florida law allow agencies to charge certain fees to provide public records, often based on the time it takes staff to fulfill a request. ECUA initially estimated it would take three or four hours of staff time to fulfill Kopytchak’s request — resulting in a total cost of $54 to $100 — but later hit Kopytchak with a $595.65 bill for 24 hours of staff time.

ECUA argued that the charges were necessary because an additional request by Kopytchak for invoices required staffers to “manually search through years of paper records.”

But that, Kinsey said, is ECUA’s problem. “It is unreasonable in this day and time that mere “invoices” were not easily accessible at a minimal charge, if any,” Kinsey wrote. “Here the citizen making a simple public records request to review public records invoices is essentially ‘punished’ financially because the agency is technologically dated/deficient or denied access if he is financially unable to pay for access.”

Kinsey also argued that ECUA’s actions could effectively discourage citizens from making records requests. “By charging such an extremely high hourly rate to gather documents [and] by not having their records easily accessible through electronic means, the average customer could be kept from making public records requests because they quite simply cannot afford to review the records,” Kinsey added.

ECUA’s $595.65 invoice to Kopytchak was “unreasonable and invalid as a matter of law,” Kinsey ruled.

A spokesman for ECUA did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

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