Legislature Considers Rolling Back Court Decision on Police Disclosure
By Hugh McQuaid
CT News Junkie
Lawmakers will hear public testimony Friday (Feb. 13)on a bill to reverse a 2014 state Supreme Court ruling, which limited the
information police must release to the public before a criminal case is
In July, the court ruled in favor of
the State Police and against the Freedom of Information Commission in
its interpretation of existing law. The court said the law requires
police to provide only cursory details about an arrest, such as the name
of the person arrested, the charges, and where and when the arrest
occurred. In addition, police can choose to release either a press
release on the arrest or disclose some sort of report.
The court said the legislature should clarify the law.
New Haven Register seeks amount of Ebola case settlement
The New Haven Register on Friday, Jan. 30 filed a complaint
with the state Freedom of Information Commission, in an effort to obtain the
amount of a settlement paid to the family of a Milford student who was barred
from school over Ebola fears.
Stephen Opayemi had filed a federal lawsuit against Milford
Public Schools and the city of Milford on behalf of his 7-year-old daughter
after she was barred from school following a trip to Nigeria.
In October, the family and school officials announced a
settlement had been reached, but they declined to comment on the terms.
The Register had submitted a formal Freedom of Information
request asking whether Milford or its insurance carrier paid out any money to
settle the case, and if so, how much. The Register asked to be provided with
access to, or a copy of, any settlement document which answers this question.
In refusing the request, attorneys representing Milford and
the school board indicated the parents of the minor do not consent to the
disclosure, and the Federal Educational and Privacy Act may apply to prohibit
The Register asserts the public has a right to know the
amount of a settlement against a municipality, whether it was funded directly by
taxpayer money, or by an insurance settlement in which coverage is paid for by
The Freedom of Information Commission will schedule a
hearing on the matter in the coming weeks.
Read some of the Register's coverage of the case here.
Connecticut journalist fighting for records of arsenic killer
By Michelle Tuccitto Sullo
In one of the state’s most notorious serial murder cases, Windsor nursing
home owner Amy Archer Gilligan poisoned multiple elderly residents in her care,
reportedly motivated by greed.
After she was caught and convicted of second-degree murder for the arsenic
poisoning of a resident in her nursing home, Gilligan wound up spending the rest
of her life at a mental health facility, what is now Connecticut Valley Hospital
in Middletown, until her death in 1962. Gilligan was the inspiration for the
movie and play "Arsenic and Old Lace."
An author and semi-retired journalist, Ron Robillard of East Hartford, has
been researching her story and is writing a book about her – and his quest to
get documents on the infamous murderer is taking him to the state Supreme Court
Forum: Connecticut legislature should rectify disastrous court ruling on freedom of information
By James H. Smith
It’s a big question really. Why would seven judges decide that the police can
keep information about crime secret from the American public? That is
essentially what the state Supreme Court did July 7.
Before becoming Supreme Court justices, four of the seven who decided the
case were either prosecutors or city attorneys, one was an FBI agent — species
not prone to informing the public. The justice who wrote the 27-page opinion,
Richard Robinson, (there are no concurring or dissenting opinions) worked as a
city lawyer for Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy.
On the 27th page of Commissioner of Public Safety vs. Freedom of Information
Commission, Mr. Justice Robinson writes that the issue should be “squarely on
the radar of the legislature” and he suggests that open government advocates
should “pursue appropriate legislative remedies.”
Editorial: Connecticut Supreme Court decision a blow to accountability
EDITORIAL from July 7:
In a blow to accountability and open government, the Connecticut Supreme
Court Monday ruled that police statewide have to release only basic information about arrests to the public while
prosecutions are pending.
The ramifications of this decision, stemming from a New Haven Register challenge of state police secrecy in 2008, could have
serious implications on the public’s right to know and ability to hold law
The Associated Press and other media organizations filed a brief arguing that
a ruling in favor of police would allow authorities to selectively withhold
information and avoid scrutiny after arrests. Despite this, the high court
unanimously sided with police.
ICYMI: Connecticut Supreme Court: Police can limit release of arrest data
By Dave Collins
HARTFORD >> The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled Monday that police
statewide only have to release basic information about arrests to the public
while prosecutions are pending, striking a blow to the media and open government
The high court said in a 7-0 decision that current state law limits
disclosure of arrest information to “police blotter” material including the name
and address of the person arrested; the date, time and place of arrest; and the
criminal charges. Justices said police also are required to release one of the
following: the arrest report, incident report, news release or other similar
The court, however, said in the decision written by Justice Richard Robinson
that it’s up to the legislature to decide whether the law needs to be changed
and to debate how to balance the public’s right to know against the state’s
interest in protecting the integrity of prosecutions and criminal
Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information announces open government award recipients
A police chief, a state senator, an FOI Commission employee and two
journalists have won the annual open government awards from the
nonprofit Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, which has been
advocating for freedom of information for six decades. CLICK HERE for full story.
South Windsor Police Chief Matthew Reed, left, accepts the Bice Clemow Award from the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information at The Hartford Club Wednesday. He is seen here with Mitch Pearlman.
7 of 8 Connecticut police departments that withheld public info improve in 2nd check
By Michelle Tuccitto Sullo
and Viktoria Sundqvist
Seven out of the eight Connecticut police departments that received poor grades on a recent public information compliance test have improved
their access to arrest information, a follow-up check shows. The exception was
The New Haven Register, The Middletown Press and The Register Citizen in
March tested all of the 92 municipal police departments and 11 state police
troops for compliance with the Freedom of Information Act.
Of those who responded, Malloy was given an overall grade ranging from C to F, with an average result of D. Access to information about public safety in the state during Malloy’s
tenure garnered the governor a grade of F among the FOI advocates. In terms of access to information about education, the FOI advocates
gave Malloy an average C grade. In terms of access to information about
business and taxes, he received a D-plus.
The governor's spokesman, Andrew Doba, said increasing transparency in state government is a priority for Malloy. The New Haven Register editorial board, however, published an editorial in all three daily newspapers saying Malloy needs to do more for transparency.
Tom Hennick, public information officer at the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission, spoke to reporters in Middletown on March 21 about what is and isn't available to the public under the state's open records laws.
"For democracy to work, people need to know what's going on," Hennick said.
Hennick also offered the following tips:
- Under FOI law, an agency doesn't have to answer questions. But it does have
to provide access to public documents and public meetings
- If a board says it's going into executive session, ask why and they should be able to tell you one of five reasons.
- Board members have to start meeting in public, then vote to go into executive session
- "It's just a workshop" or "it's just a task force" are not excuses for not following FOI meeting law. It is still a public meeting.
- Some towns are camera shy, but if it's a public meeting you can take photos or record what is being said
- Open meeting law guarantees access to meetings, does not give you the right to speak at meetings
- Executive level search committee can meet in private under FOI law. Binding arbitration hearings are public
- Bids and RFPs can be kept from public until contract is signed
- If someone tells you what happened in executive session or you overhear part of it, you can report it without breaking any laws
- One frustration for reporters is FOI law does not necessarily help you meet deadline. Complaints take time, but they are still important Video from the event is available in two parts:
Cromwell Town Council revises agenda for executive session
By Viktoria Sundqvist
A reporter brought to my attention last week that the Cromwell Town Council agenda for a March 12 meeting lists an executive session to discuss "employee performance."
Under the state's Freedom of Information Act, a board must provide a little more information than that. However, it does not have to provide the name of the person or the person's title. Suggestions would be "to discuss the performance of a town hall employee."
I sent out an email to the town council chairman asking him to revise the agenda to include more information. The chairman forwarded the information to the town manager.
Both the town manager and I contact the FOI Commission's public education officer to clarify the rules on this, and the result is that the town revised it's agenda to add "Town Hall employee."
It's a small victory for public information, one that didn't require any complaints to be filed. Sometimes, you can help keep town officials up to speed on what the law requires without causing a big uproar. The public now has slightly more information about what will be discussed at the meeting, and the town now knows someone is watching what it posts on its agendas.
New Haven city clerk issues, retracts order squashing document release
By Rachel Chinapen
New Haven Register
NEW HAVEN >> In his first full week on the job, City Clerk Michael
Smart issued several memos, originally prohibiting his staff from releasing
public documents without his approval, and, by the fourth memo, reversing that
and clarifying that documents would be released as normal, but that he would be
the only voice of the office.
In a memo dated Thursday, Smart wrote, “Press/Media inquiry request for
interviews, documents etc., but not limited to inquiries from other individuals
/representatives of any entity are to be directed to the City Town Clerk, who
will give office staff a directive on how to proceed.”
In the memo, he added he will “always be accessible” and if he isn’t
“directly” accessible, he can be reached on his cellphone or by email.
Connecticut FOI Commission, law enforcement at odds over access to info
By Luther Turmelle
New Haven Register
HARTFORD >> An attorney representing the state’s Freedom of Information
Commission told state Supreme Court justices Thursday that giving law
enforcement officials sole discretion on what information to release from arrest
reports would be a bad idea and a radical departure from current practices.
Victor Perpetua said the commission has served an effective role over the
past 35 years in balancing the public’s need to know against information that
needs to be withheld in order to ensure the effective operation of the judicial
system. Perpetua made his arguments before the state high court in a case that
focuses on whether police can withhold arrest reports from the public and, while
prosecutions are pending, simply issue press releases instead.
The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in October that the state Medical Examining Board held an illegal secret meeting in 2009 as it was being asked to decide whether it was ethical for doctors to take part in lethal injection executions, according to an Associated Press article.
In a blog post on the New England First Amendment Coalition website titled "Why AP Wants Sandy Hook 911 Calls," the Associated Press explains why it has asked for the calls, setting off a statewide debate on Freedom of Information issues.
Says William J. Cole, AP's New England bureau chief: "It’s not about a sensational media preying on innocents and exploiting
their agony. It’s about reporters getting access to recordings that
could shed light on the law enforcement response to one of the worst
school shootings in U.S. history."
Newtown families keep pushing for privacy at FOI hearing
Relatives of two Newtown victims appealed for privacy Wednesday by
asking a task force to advocate against disclosing 911 recordings from
the shooting. They also requested that state’s attorneys not disclose
certain details in their pending report, according to an article by CTNewsjunkie.com.
PRESS RELEASE: Malloy selects Owen Egan as chairman of the FOI Commission
From a press release sent out by the governor's office: Governor
Dannel P. Malloy has announced that he has selected Owen P. Eagan of
West Hartford to serve as chairman of the Freedom of Information
the state body responsible for administering and enforcing the
provisions of the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act, which ensures
citizen access to the records and meetings of public agencies.
Freedom of Information Commission has a critical mission, to ensure
that the public is informed about government operations and that they
have access to public records,” Governor
Malloy said. “Owen has extensive experience with the commission, and I
am confident that he will help lead this office in their important
mission of connecting the public with their government.”
was first appointed to the commission by former Governor M. Jodi Rell
in 2009, and then was reappointed by Governor Malloy. He is a partner
Eagan, Donohue, Van Dyke & Falsey, LLP,
where he conducts the general practice of law, concentrating on state
and federal civil and criminal litigation. Previously, he served as
Mayor of West Hartford, where he also once served as a member of the
town council. He is a graduate of Wesleyan University and received his
J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center.
am honored and humbled to be appointed as the next chairman of the
Freedom of Information Commission and I thank Governor Malloy for this
appointment” Eagan said. “Our state’s
Freedom of Information Act is the cornerstone of a vibrant democracy.
The importance of an open and transparent government cannot be
understated. As chairman, I will strive to ensure that all complainants
and respondents are given every opportunity to protect
their rights under the law. I look forward to the opportunity to be an
important part of this vital process.”
appointment of Owen Eagan as the new chairman of the Freedom of
Information Commission is welcome news to those who believe in open and
accessible government,” Colleen Murphy,
Executive Director and General Counsel of the FOIC, said. “Since
joining the FOIC in 2009, Owen has been a dedicated and thoughtful
commissioner. He brings a keen sense of fairness, integrity and an
even-handed approach to the chairmanship that will serve
the citizens of Connecticut well.”
FOIC hears complaints from persons who have been denied access to the
records of meetings of public agencies, and then renders a decision
based on the FOI Act. Its members are
appointed by the Governor and the leadership of the General Assembly.
The Governor is required under state statute to select one of the
commission’s nine members to serve as its chairman.
Editorial: State pardons board should meet in public
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s words about open government and secrecy at
the Board of Pardons and Paroles sound reasonable at first, but his
administration’s actions have not matched the words.
Malloy said Friday that the state pardons board should meet in
public, with limited exceptions made for the privacy of crime victims.
And that it’s a “balancing act, but more often than not, err on the side
REPORT: Task Force Member Urges Caution Regarding Secrecy
A member of the legislature’s panel tasked with balancing transparency
and victim privacy expressed concern Wednesday that the group’s
membership is weighted too heavily in favor of reducing public access to
information, according to a report on the CTNewsjunkie.com website.
You may be surprised by how much information you have the right to know. Connecticut Open Records is led by a group of journalists from across Connecticut who track the accessibility of public records in the state. Educate yourself and learn how Sunshine Laws and the Freedom of Information Act impact democracy, journalism and you. Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org