Tuesday, April 14, 2015

COLUMN: On access to police records, the people have compromised too much already

James H. Smith, the president of the 60-year-old nonprofit Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, says the public has compromised enough on access to police records. Do you agree?

Read his full column here.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Arrest Records Bill Stays Alive, Maintains Transparency

By Elizabeth Regan
CT News Junkie

The Government Administration and Elections Committee voted 9-6 Monday in favor of a bill written to nullify a Connecticut Supreme Court decision allowing police to withhold arrest information until criminal prosecutions are completed. The vote sends the bill to the floor of the House for consideration.
The bill, H.B. 6750, supersedes a ruling by the state Supreme Court that allowing police to withhold arrest information while criminal prosecutions are ongoing.

Read more here

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Lawmakers Seek Compromise on Access to Arrest Records

By Elizabeth Regan
Less than a year after the state Supreme Court ruled that police could withhold arrest information while criminal prosecutions are ongoing, lawmakers are reviewing a bill that would essentially undo that decision.
The bill before the legislature, H.B. 6750, would require police to disclose the “record of arrest of any person” as well as “any other public record that pertains to the arrest,” regardless of whether a prosecution is pending.
The court had maintained that police are required to release only basic information about arrests during pending investigations. At the same time, the ruling effectively eliminated the appeals process to the Freedom of Information Commission for anything other than that basic information.

Read more here

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Monday, February 16, 2015

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 resolved.
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.

Read the full story here.

Read the text of the bill here

Read the New Haven Register's Feb. 13 testimony here

Check out here a follow-up to the hearing by the Hartford Courant's Jon Lender. 

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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

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 such disclosure.
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 taxpayers.
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

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Monday, December 29, 2014

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 in January.

Read more here

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Friday, September 12, 2014

Public Records Reset: Supreme Court Reduces Info Police Must Share

Check out even more CT news coverage of the New Haven Register's FOI case and the Supreme ruling: 

By Len Besthoff
If a crime was committed on your street, near your workplace or around your child’s school, would you want to know about it?
What you're allowed to know is at the center of a big debate over public information.
The NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters took a close look at the situation.
This summer, a state Supreme Court ruling gave police more control over what arrest information they're required to share, and at least one large department is already cutting back.

Read more here


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

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.”

Read more here

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Monday, July 14, 2014

Media around the state reacts to Connecticut Supreme Court ruling

Other media outlets around Connecticut responded last week to the state Supreme Court's ruling on how much police need to disclose when a person is arrested. Here are a few links:

New London Day: Make Police Reports Available
and State Supreme Court ruling Restricts Release of Arrest Information

Hartford Courant: Open Government Advocates Lose at Supreme Court
and High Court Oks Police Secrecy

Connecticut Post: State Supreme Court Wrong to Let Police Decide How Much to Tell Public

New Haven Independent: Looney vows to fix FOI ruling

Also, check out this piece on the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information's web site.

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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 enforcement accountable.
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.

Read the full editorial here

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ICYMI: Connecticut Supreme Court: Police can limit release of arrest data

By Dave Collins
Associated Press
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 advocates.
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 document.
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 investigations.

Read the full story from last week here

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

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.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

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 Hamden.
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.

Read more here.

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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

FOI advocates give Malloy a D on transparency

In case you missed it: The New Haven Register, The Middletown Press and The Register Citizen published a story on April 22 about several FOI advocates grading the governor on his transparency.

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. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Video from FOI class for reporters in Middletown

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:

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Monday, March 10, 2014

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.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Open data forum: State to make raw data available to public

For the past five years the Connecticut Data Collaborative has been trying to get the state of Connecticut to give it access to its raw data. Last month, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed an executive order making that possible, according to an article on CTNewsjunkie.com

Friday, January 10, 2014

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.

Read the full story here.

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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.

Read more in the New Haven Register here.

Check out coverage in other Connecticut media outlets on the Supreme Court hearing too!

In the Valley Independent Sentinel here.

In the New London Day here.

In the Waterbury Republican American here.

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Monday, December 2, 2013

Court: Medical board violated FOI law

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.

Monday, November 25, 2013

A history of Powder Ridge

Testing a timeline feature

Saturday, November 2, 2013

AP explains why it wants Sandy Hook 911 calls

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."

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

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.

Friday, October 18, 2013

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 Commission (FOIC), 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.

“The 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.”

Eagan 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 with 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 Deputy 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.

“I 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.”

“The 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.”

The 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.

Monday, September 30, 2013

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 of transparency.”

Read more here.

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