By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – The much-anticipated oral arguments that will determine if the unredacted Laurie List of dishonest law enforcement officers will finally be made public will be heard Wednesday with one disqualified justice and two Superior Court judges sitting in.
Members of the public can live stream the 9:30 a.m. arguments Wednesday by linking here. https://www.courts.state.nh.us/videos/supreme/index.htm
Superior Court Judge Charles Temple ruled in April 2019 that the full unredacted list of 264 officers that is now called the Exculpatory Evidence Schedule – is a public record, but Attorney General Gordon MacDonald quickly appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court to keep it secret, arguing that Temple erred.
The lawsuit argues the unredacted list must be made public for citizens to hold government accountable and to make sure all criminal defendants are notified if an officer testifying against him or her is on the list. Criminal defendants are constitutionally guaranteed all evidence favorable to them including sustained police discipline that could negatively affect their ability to testify truthfully.
The list contains the redacted names of 264 officers and includes the departments where the officer works or worked in the past, and some include the date of notification and type of sustained discipline that put them on the list.
See copy of the most recent list here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1PumiMcSlQCBqCm9sKkBYNJFUu10GWE8-/view?ts=5f371bab
On Wednesday, retired Superior Court Justices Gillian Abramson and Kenneth Brown will sit on the court with Senior Associate Justice Gary E. Hicks and Justices Anna Barbara Hantz Marconi and Patrick E. Donovan. Justice James Bassett disqualified himself from hearing the case with no reason given and there has been no replacement for retired Chief Justice Robert Lynn. Justices do not usually say why they step aside from hearing cases.
The public records case was filed by the New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism, Telegraph of Nashua, Union Leader Corporation, Newspapers of New England, Inc., through its New Hampshire properties, Seacoast Newspapers, Inc., Keene Publishing Corporation, and The American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire. Attorney Gregory Sullivan represents the Union Leader and ACLU-NH legal director Gilles Bissonnette represents the rest of the plaintiffs.
Solicitor General Daniel Will is expected to argue for the Attorney General’s Office.
Since MacDonald filed the appeal, the state Supreme Court overturned its own 1993 ruling known as the Fenniman case in two other public records cases in what was widely seen as a victory for the public’s right to know about misconduct by public officials that has previously been deemed confidential.
The two cases were filed by the New Hampshire Union Leader and Seacoast Newspapers after they were denied access to documents involving alleged police misconduct in separate public records cases under the internal personnel practices exemption of RSA 91a, the state’s right-to-know law.
“An overly broad construction of the ‘internal personnel practices’ exemption has proven to be an unwarranted constraint on a transparent government,” Supreme Court Justice Patrick Donovan wrote. “…(W)e overrule Fenniman to the extent that it broadly interpreted the ‘internal personnel practices’ exemption and its progeny to the extent that they relied on that broad interpretation.”