Sunday, December 29, 2013

Losing a case is sometimes better than not bringing it

Sometimes, you've got to lose a records access case in order to highlight a flaw in the system.   This is the case with Warren County Superior Court Judge Amy O'Connor's recent decision to protect the identities of the public officials who used county-owned generators for personal use during power outages caused by Superstorm Sandy.  Background and case documents on the lawsuit are on my blog here.

It's not as if I actually lost the case--O'Connor ordered disclosure of much of the Warren County Prosecutor's investigative file--but not knowing the names of the officials involved deprives citizens of their ability to effectively oversee their public servants.  As it is, the officials who misused the generators may get promoted in the future and the public will be none the wiser.

On the bright side, the local newspaper, the Express-Times, reported and editorialized on O'Connor's ruling.  PDFs of the article and editorial are here and here and the on-line version of the article is here.  From the comments posted so far, the public is outraged by the decision and the Express-Times editorial staff correctly asked "if those involved have been punished and moved on, what’s the rationale for not disclosing all the details?"

I hope that the public's discontent with O'Connor's ruling spurs a discussion by policymakers that will lead to a fairer balance between a public official's or employee's right to privacy and the public's right to know.  Currently, the balance is tipped way too far in favor of public officials and employees.





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