NEFAC logo 11-11The NEFAC Report
New England's monthly right-to-know dispatch

December 2011

Prepared by the New England First Amendment Coalition in partnership with Northeastern University    
   The monthly NEFAC Report monitors print and online coverage of public access issues in the six-state region.  Visit our Website  for the NEFAC blog, media updates from around New England, guides to the states' right-to-know laws, legal contacts and more.
Counties ask ME court to deny deeds vendor a price break
   PORTLAND - Six Maine counties are hoping the state's highest court will overturn a lower court decision that sided with a company seeking registry of deeds documents at a lower cost than the counties want to charge.
   MacImage of Maine LLC, joined by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine and the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition, argued Tuesday that the registries of deeds' records are public under Maine law and that the public is allowed to inspect and copy those records at a reasonable cost.
   The company intends to create a website containing the registries of deeds records and charge for access, undercutting the price charged by the counties' offices.
   Sigmund Schutz, a local lawyer who represented MacImage, said a legislative effort to retroactively impose a different fee schedule for public records was unconstitutional.  Read more

- Christopher Williams, Sun Journal, Lewiston, Maine 


Done carefully, remote participation in meetings good idea 
   A new state regulation allowing elected officials to remotely participate in public meetings and board votes is a welcome change. But care must be taken to make sure constituents have the information necessary to determine if the provision is being used properly.
   Attorney General Martha Coakley announced last month that the state's Open Meeting Law would now allow many public officials - from planning board members to county commissioners- to fulfill their duties even if they cannot physically attend a meeting.
   The law still requires a quorum of the public body to be physically present for a vote to be considered official. It also requires that all present for the meeting - board and audience members - are able to hear the voice of any member participating remotely.
   The change, which must be adopted by a community's mayor or board of selectmen, is intended to benefit those who miss meetings because of personal illness, disability, emergency, military service or geographic distance.  Read more

- The Enterprise, Brockton, Mass. 


Ruling moves closer to opening Amy Bishop inquest files
   BOSTON - The state's highest court today said the records of the inquest into the 1986 shooting death of Seth Bishop by his sister, Amy Bishop, can be made public - but only after the parties involved get a chance to keep them sealed by a judge for "good cause."
   In a case brought by the Boston Globe, the Supreme Judicial Court laid out new rules governing the public release of transcripts and reports of inquests, which are held behind closed doors under state law.
   Citing state law, the SJC said inquest transcripts and reports should become public records after prosecutors bring criminal charges. However, the court also gave relatives of the victim and the defendant, as well as witnesses, and law enforcement officials 10 days to go into court and ask to keep the records sealed.
Read more

- John R. Ellement, The Boston Globe 


Judge refuses to close police records in wrongful death suit
   NEW BRITAIN, Conn. - A Superior Court judge has rejected a bid by former state Rep. James O'Rourke to block release of police statements developed during an investigation into the 2009 death of a Rocky Hill woman.
   O'Rourke, who represented Cromwell, Portland and a part of Middletown for 10 years, is being sued in civil court by the mother and sister of the woman, Carol Ann Sinisgalli, for allegedly wrongfully causing her death. O'Rourke had argued the police statements should not be released to the attorney for the two women because he had not been charged with a crime in connection with Sinisgalli's death.
   But in a ruling this week, New Britain Superior Court Judge Cynthia K. Swienton rejected that claim.
Read more

- Jeff Mill, The Middletown (Conn.) Press 


ME panel OKs exempting governor's "working papers"
   AUGUSTA, Maine - Members of the state's right-to-know advisory committee on Thursday approved a proposal from the governor's office that would exempt all of his "working papers" from the Freedom of Access Act, perhaps until the end of each legislative session.
   The right-to-know advisory committee is made up of media members, lawmakers and other state officials representing the areas of law enforcement, schools, courts, counties, municipalities and the public.
   In a 10-5 vote, that committee recommended the Legislature's Judiciary Committee - and ultimately the full Legislature - approve the governor's exemption next session.
   The Legislature long has enjoyed the same exemption for working papers, broadly defined as anything written down that could contribute to proposed legislation.  Read more

-  Eric Russell, Bangor (Maine) Daily News 


Editorial: CT education-related contract dealings hidden
  Back in the 1990s, we coined the term "Confederacy of Greed" to describe the motives and behavior of Connecticut politicians, school administrators and unionized teachers. The term serves as a useful pathway to understanding the herculean efforts of the educational establishment in blocking public access to contract-arbitration hearings.
   Torrington teachers and administrators, aided by the State Department of Education, are implacably opposed to the public being informed of the details of "last, best offers" provided by union and management during arbitration hearings. These are not negotiations, per se, which are conducted in secret under the terms of Connecticut law - unnecessarily, in our view, but that's an argument for another day.
   Believing state law allows news reporters and the public to witness arbitration hearings, the Republican-American sought access to such proceedings for Torrington teachers and administrators in 2010 and 2011, respectively. The Board of Education didn't object, but the unions did.  Read more

- Republican-American, Waterbury, Conn.  


VT court hears bid to open Hartford incident police files
   MONTPELIER - A case that pits the public's right to review police records and law enforcement's right to keep certain documents secret has reached the Vermont Supreme Court.
   The high court must decide whether the Hartford Police Department should release records in a case in which officers handcuffed a man inside his own home.  Read more, listen to report

- John Dillon, Vermont Public Radio  


Email records of three GOP administrations wiped out  
  WASHINGTON - Tens of thousands of e-mails authored or received by Cabinet secretaries in the last three Republican gubernatorial administrations were automatically wiped off state computers after the officials left office, destroying a huge trove of public records about major decisions of state government.
   Computer systems erased the e-mails from the administrations of Acting Governor Jane Swift and Governors Paul Cellucci and Mitt Romney because state officials did not store the contents of their accounts by backing them up on central computers, according to state officials. In the case of the Romney administration, the automatic deletions occurred despite state guidelines that were updated in 2004 that require certain electronic records be preserved.
   That includes at least four of Romney's top Cabinet officials. Thirty days after they left office, their e-mails were automatically purged from the state's central computers, wiping out records of decisions on an array of sensitive topics, from health care to raising state revenues.  Read more  

- Matt Viser, The Boston Globe  


 MA will open long-closed Romney records archive 
  WASHINGTON - Massachusetts will make available to the public hundreds of boxes of documents from Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's term as governor that have long been locked away, the state said Tuesday. The same agency that is opening the files said it would not pursue an inquiry into the purge of electronic records at the end of Romney's term.
   The moves come after disclosures that Romney had authorized the purging of emails and other closely-held electronic records at the end of administration.
   The decision by the Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth will ultimately make available more than 460 boxes of documents stored since 2006 in the state archives in south Boston. They were closed to public inspection because of legal uncertainty over the impact of a court ruling that said Massachusetts governor's records were not subject to disclosure.   Read more

- The Associated Press 


 MA state records laws need to be revisited
  Not so long ago, the memos and letters, reports and proposals that are the work of government at every level were typed on paper, copied and distributed by inter-office mail, then saved in filing cabinets as part of the historical record.
   All that has changed, with most of the work of government being done on computers and existing as electronic files.
   State law has tried to keep up with the technological shift from paper documents to electronic files, but revelations about the deletion of years of emails by cabinet secretaries during the Romney, Swift and Cellucci administrations are evidence that Massachusetts has failed to enact safeguards that work to preserve official records.   Read more

- The Standard Times, New Bedford, Mass.  


MA state government checkbook now open to public online 
   BOSTON -  The state's checkbook, including payments to contractors, vendors, employees and retirees, went online yesterday for public viewing as part of a $1.8 million open government program launched by Gov. Deval L. Patrick and state Treasurer Steven Grossman.
   The "open checkbook" database will be linked to the state's website and provide users searchable access to some 15 million payments over the last three years to employees, retirees and about 50,800 vendors covering more than $80 billion in state spending.
   In addition, the site,, allows users to find out how much the state spends on different programs and services and where that money goes.  Read more

- John J. Monahan, The Telegram & Gazette, Worcester, Mass. 


FOI Commission alters stance on UConn trade secrets case
   HARTFORD - Connecticut's open records watchdog unexpectedly softened its position Monday during arguments before the state Supreme Court about whether the University of Connecticut can treat databases it creates as trade secrets and deny the information to the public.
   Freedom of Information Commission lawyer Clifton A. Leonhardt caught the justices by surprise Monday when - in a case with implications for the licensing of research - he departed from a position taken earlier by the commission and conceded that UConn, as a research institution, probably has a right to create and protect trade secrets.
   Previously, in a written decision and in briefing papers filed with the state's high court, the commission argued that a public entity such as the university is not entitled to keep trade secrets because it is subsidized by the public and, as a result, is not dependent for its survival on income derived from trade.  Read more

- Edmund H. Mahony, Hartford Courant  


Writer sues to disclose Phoebe Prince bullying settlement    
   NORTHAMPTON, Mass. - A writer and blogger who closely covered the Phoebe Prince bullying case is suing to reveal the terms of the financial settlement South Hadley reached with Prince's family in the wake of the 15-year-old's suicide.
   A South Hadley High School freshman originally from Ireland, Prince took her own life in January 2010 after being bullied by schoolmates who later faced criminal charges for their actions.
   Emily Bazelon, a writer and editor for the online magazine Slate, filed a lawsuit in Hampshire Superior Court Friday, seeking disclosure of the settlement amount.  Read more

- Etta Walsh, Daily Hampshire Gazette  


Does public have right to know teacher's history in porn? 
   MALDEN, Mass. - Studies have shown the general public considers journalists less ethical than lawyers, politicians, and even used car salesmen. And we had another example of why that's the case at Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Malden last week, when Fox 25 ambushed a well-liked English teacher with allegations he'd performed in pornographic movies.
   The teacher, Kevin Hogan, was quickly put on paid administrative leave, pending an internal investigation. School officials won't comment on Hogan's future, but students quickly launched a Facebook page calling for his re-instatement, which garnered more than 160 supporters in less than two days.
    Though only in his first year at Mystic Valley, Hogan clearly made an impression on students-and they should be commended for showing activism and compassion during a scandal where an embarrassing (yet legal) past seems to be the crux of things.   Read more 

- The Malden (Mass.) Observer   


 CT selectman says he'd again withhold info until ordered
   Stonington First Selectman Ed Haberek and town attorney Michael Satti still don't get it.
   Last January the town investigated a case of alleged workplace violence involving a highway department employee, Ernie Santos. The Day subsequently filed a request for all records involving the incident. When the town refused to comply The Day and its staff writer, Joe Wojtas, appealed.
   In a ruling that should have surprised no one, a Freedom of Information Commission hearing officer last month found in favor of Mr. Wojtas and The Day and is urging the full commission to order the information released when it meets Dec. 14. We are confident it will and, in fact, Mr. Haberek also expects it will.
   Yet if a similar matter arises again, Mr. Haberek said he expects his administration will act in the same fashion.  Read more

- The Day, New London, Conn.  


 Public access advocates say ME town records fees too high
   SCARBOROUGH, Maine - The School Department's policies on public access are illegal under state law, according to one attorney and a representative of the Society of Professional Journalists.
   Fees associated with records requests from the School Department exceed the state limit, said Sigmund Schutz, an attorney with Preti Flaherty in Portland and a director of the New England First Amendment Coalition.
   The School Board was scheduled to consider a proposal to substantially increase the fees at its meeting Thursday night, but board members removed the item from the agenda Wednesday after being questioned about it by The Forecaster.
    The existing policy uses a tiered fee structure for public records of $10-$30 per hour for fulfilling a records request; fees are smallest for clerical staff work and largest for time spent by the superintendent of schools.
   The proposed change would have increased the fee to $15-$50 per hour.  Read more

- Marlo Moretto, The Forecaster, Falmouth, Maine    


CT case pits victims' privacy against open records laws    
   HARTFORD, Conn.- Connecticut's Supreme Court is considering whether the state constitution's promise of respectful, fair treatment for crime victims entitles them to a voice in decisions on whether certain court records of their abusers can be released.
   The case, which balances victims' rights against open records laws, was argued Thursday before the Supreme Court.
   Attorneys on both sides acknowledged the outcome could have wide-ranging ramifications in Connecticut courts, depending on how deeply the justices delve into questions of privacy, freedom of information laws and victims' legal standing to raise question about the release of records in the prosecution of their alleged abusers.
   Justices did not say Thursday when they expected to issue their ruling.  Read more

- The Associated Press  


School board member contends policy violates his rights  
   PORTLAND, Maine - Two employees are suing the city of South Portland over the constitutionality of a personnel policy that bars city workers from many forms of political activity, including the right to run for the School Board.
   The plaintiffs are South Portland School Board member and city employee Karen Callaghan and city employee and former School Board member Burton Edwards.
   Callaghan and Edwards contend that the policy violates their right to freedom of political speech, according to the lawsuit filed in Cumberland County Superior Court.
   They argue they should be allowed to participate in any school-related political activity independent of their employment by the city.  Read more

- Marlo Moretto, The Forecaster  


Copyright stymies parent's look into kindergarten math  
   PORTLAND, Maine - The parent of a kindergarten student says she has been shut down in her attempt to understand and criticize her daughter's math curriculum because the School Department believes she could violate the curriculum publisher's copyright.
   Anna Collins said she became concerned about the curriculum at Longfellow Elementary School when she realized there was no textbook.
   So, Collins, who is an attorney, decided she would ask to see the texts the teachers use to prepare their lessons.
   "As a parent, I didn't have a lot of knowledge. I was brand new as a parent in this school system. I just wanted the best for my child," Collins said.  Read more

- Emily Parkhurst, The Forecaster 


School board member's bad sportsmanship kept under wraps

   CONWAY, N.H. - School administrators are refusing to release information that could answer questions about alleged inappropriate behavior by a Conway school board member dating as far back as 2007.
   Five former Conway school board members have confirmed they received numerous complaints during their tenure about Randy Davison, a school board member since 2007, for his tendency to badly lose his composure at school sporting events.
   "I can confirm there were instances that were brought to our attention," said former Conway school board chair George Fredette. "We did have complaints from other schools."   Read more


- Erik Eisele, The Conway (N.H.) Daily Sun 


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