ACLU and news organizations file lawsuit
Denied access to unredacted Laurie List raises Right-to-Know concerns
CONCORD – The Nashua Telegraph and six other news organizations in New Hampshire have teamed up with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire in a Right-to-Know lawsuit calling for the release of an unredacted version of the Exculpatory Evidence Schedule, also known as the Laurie List.
The lawsuit, calling the access of public records into question, was filed Friday in the Hillsborough County Superior Court’s Southern Division. The redacted version of the EES has existed since at least 2004.
“In 2004, then-Attorney General Peter Heed requested county attorneys to create such a list within their respective counties,” the lawsuit reads.
The lawsuit states that, as of June 1, 2018, 171 New Hampshire law enforcement officers were on the list. It also notes that the Department of Justice has declined to produce an unredacted version of the EES list to petitioners because of claims that disclosure would invade the officers’ privacy. The argument has been made under New Hampshire’s Right to Know – Law RSA 91-A:5, IV – which exempts “records pertaining to internal personnel practices; confidential, commercial, or financial information; test questions, scoring keys, and other examination data used to administer a licensing examination, examination for employment, or academic examinations; and personnel, medical, welfare, library user, videotape sale or rental, and other files whose disclosure would constitute invasion of privacy.”
The petitioners in the lawsuit note they are only seeking the list of officers who “have not challenged their placement on the list or for whom there has been a finding of misconduct affecting the officer’s credibility or truthfulness.”
Gilles Bissonnette, ACLU-New Hampshire’s legal director, said the suit is about government transparency.
“We don’t think there is an issue of privacy,” he said.
In his press release, which was posted around 11 a.m. Friday on the ACLU’s website, Bissonnette wrote, “Granite Staters have a right to know when law enforcement officers engage in conduct that impedes their ability to serve the public effectively in court as a testifying witness.”
David Taylor, vice president of the nonprofit, nonpartisan citizen coalition Right to Know New Hampshire said he believes the ACLU has a good track record, but it’s hard to predict what will happen.
“In general, I agree with the arguments. I think the list of police officers who have had investigations against their conduct should be public,” Taylor said.
He also noted the importance of the petition, pointing out that not all police officers participate in misconduct.
“Most police officers do a good job, and there are a few police officers who have done something not so good,” Taylor said. “The petition points out that police, in essence, are professional witnesses when called into court, and if they have a background of falsifying statements, it’s important for people to know in trial that that has happened and whether they can trust that witness.”
Under Part 12 of The Petitioners’ Chapter 91-A Requests and the Department’s Response, the lawsuit notes that as previously reported in The Telegraph, the Nashua Police Department has at least 15 officers on the list, with two still working for the department. Hudson also has one officer on the list.
As Bissonnette wrote in his press release and as the lawsuit notes, “Keeping information secret, especially when it comes to police behavior and how prosecutors do their jobs, only creates distrust and suspicion that minimizes the hard work and dedication shown by the overwhelming majority of law enforcement professionals.”
Bissonnette said he has not received a response to the lawsuit, but expects that it will be within a 30-day window.
Grace Pecci can be contacted at 594-1243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.