By Thomas P. Caldwell, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — Shortly after Gov. Chris Sununu’s signing of House Bill 471 into law on Wednesday, most of the litigants in a public records lawsuit against the state Department of Justice filed a Notice of Voluntary Nonsuit Without Prejudice, effectively withdrawing from the case that sought to bring daylight to the confidential list of dishonest police known as the Laurie List.
The lead plaintiff, the New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism, is the lone holdout in the lawsuit, having opposed the legislation as being too weak. An amendment to the bill, hammered out in negotiations between the Attorney General’s Office and the six other petitioners, added provisions to HB 471 that allow police officers to contest their inclusion on the Exculpatory Evidence Schedule, formerly known as the Laurie List.
The list contains the names of sworn officers with records of excessive force or credibility issues, intended to make defense lawyers aware of potential conflicts that could benefit their clients. Prior to the passage of HB 471, the names and most of the information on the list available to the public was redacted. The impetus for the lawsuit was the belief that information on bad officers should be public.
Gilles Bissonnette, the legal director of ACLU-NH who also originally represented the New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism, withdrew as its attorney last fall. He supported the amendment to the bill, saying, “All of this was done in the hope to resolve the public disclosure on the EES (Laurie List) once and for all. I believe this amendment as well is consistent with the LEACT commission recommendations concerning the EES.”
LEACT is the governor’s Law Enforcement Accountability, Community and Transparency commission that reviewed police accountability matters following the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota.
Attorney Andru Volinsky, who now represents the New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism, objected to the compromise, saying, “any officer on the list could tie up the release of his or her listing by filing litigation that [could] prevent release of the listing until that litigation is completed, which could take years.”
In his court filing at the time, Volinsky added, “Finally, as if all of the tilting towards the listed officer were not enough, the whole EES (Laurie List) is made completely discretionary” by the amendment.
On Wednesday, the Union Leader Corp., Telegraph of Nashua, Newspapers of New England, Seacoast Newspapers, Inc., Keene Publishing Corp., and the ACLU-NH withdrew from the lawsuit, writing, “In light of today’s signing of HB 471 into law — Section 2 of which governing the Exculpatory Evidence Schedule will become effective 30 days after passage (on September 24, 2021) — these and only these specific six Petitioners hereby give notice that they are taking a nonsuit of their case against Respondent [N.H. Department of Justice] without prejudice.”
Publisher Nancy West of the New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism said, “I will be speaking with our attorney, Andru Volinsky, to decide our next step in moving ahead with this important matter for all criminal defendants who may have been cheated out of their constitutional right to a fair trial by not getting all evidence favorable to them. I believe in the court system and trust that Judge Charles Temple will make the right ruling.”
A telephonic status hearing in the case is scheduled on Sept. 8.