Judge Rules Secret List of Police Officers With Credibility Issues Must Be Made Public
A list containing the names of approximately 250 New Hampshire law enforcement officers who may have credibility issues must be made public, according to an order issued by a Superior Court judge.
The N.H. Center for Public Interest Journalism, along with several newspapers and the ACLU of New Hampshire, sued the N.H. Department of Justice, arguing it must release the so-called "Laurie List" under the state’s Right to Know laws.
The Department of Justice countered that the list, which is also known as the Exculpatory Evidence Schedule, or EES, is confidential because it contains personnel-related information, which is generally shielded from disclosure.
In his ruling dated April 23, Judge Charles Temple writes that since there is no “employee-employer relationship” between the officers, who work for local police departments, and the DOJ, the records could not be considered personnel-related. The EES “is not a personnel file within the meaning of the statute,” writes Temple.
The state has kept a form of the "Laurie List" since 1995, in order to notify defendants in criminal cases when an officer with possible credibility issues is involved, as required by law.
During oral arguments in the case last October, Dan Will, N.H. Solicitor General, argued that “per legislative directive, this is strictly confidential stuff.”
But the court, citing a previous ruling that the state’s Right to Know law is meant to ensure “the greatest possible public access” to information, sided with the petitioners.
“When you keep information like this secret, it creates distrust and suspicion,” says Gilles Bissonnette with the ACLU of New Hampshire. “It’s bad for the public, it’s bad for police. It is really critical that we don’t undermine faith and confidence in law enforcement, but that’s what secrecy does.”
The Attorney General’s office could appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court, and says it will make that determiniation consistent with court procedure.
In a statement, Solicitor General Will writes that "the Court did not order the immediate production of an unredacted EES. The Court’s order is not a final order in the case and, therefore, is not subject to immediate appeal to the New Hampshire Supreme Court."
In a statement praising the ruling, Nancy West with the N.H. Center for Public Interest Journalism, said, “I hope this means we will be able to publish the full unredacted Laurie List right away.”
(This story has been updated to include a statement from the N.H. Department of Justice.)