Some groups in New Hampshire, including the ACLU, are arguing that the names on a state-wide list of police officers with credibility issues should be released to the public.
Local police chiefs place officers on what's commonly referred to as the "Laurie List" after internal investigators determine that their credibility has been harmed by committing a crime, lying, or other inappropriate actions.
In April, New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald announced changes to how officers are identified. He released a heavily redacted version of the list last month that did not include any names.
Manchester attorney Robin Malone joined NHPR's Rick Ganley to talk about why she supports more transparency with the Laurie List.
Note: the transcript below has been lightly edited for clarity
What is the purpose of the Laurie List?
So the Laurie List is intended to allow law enforcement to identify people working in law enforcement either at the state labs or usually police officers who have credibility issues. The question is, does any potentially exculpatory evidence exist? Law enforcement creates that list. That list is available to the prosecutor. And then when the prosecutors have that officer in a case they can easily identify that officer and go through the process necessary before they can disclose that information to defense counsel.
Can you explain for us the changes that the attorney general made this spring - how do they affect how you do your job as a defense attorney?
I think the big issue that we took with the A.G.'s memo - and to be clear, I think the issue is more with the confidentiality of law enforcement files to begin with - but the issue that we took with the April memo from attorney MacDonald was with interim disclosure. When you say "interim disclosure," you're talking about between the time that the credibility is called into question and the case is decided correct. So the employment law process that officers are afforded rightfully so when there are allegations of internal misconduct that can take 18 months. And our concern when this memo came out was that there would be this 18 month lag between disclosure - and it does state that during certain parts of that investigation it does need to be disclosed. We've had some conversations with the A.G. and we feel confident that they are going to respond to that point of concern for us.
Why do you believe it's important for those names to not only be disclosed to defense attorneys but to the public in general? I mean, as you said, there is due process here even for a police officer.
The due process for a police officer is very different than the due process for criminal defendants, and I think that that's an important distinction. Criminal defendants are in court because the government is seeking to take away their liberty, they are seeking to incarcerate. They are seeking to mandate payment of a fine. They are seeking to take away rights to vote, take away rights to possess firearms, and those rights are sacred. They are constitutionally-based in New Hampshire and in the U.S. and that due process is afforded because of the extreme nature of the deprivation that could come.
The due process for the officers - the internal due process is of a different nature. There's no deprivation of liberty at stake for the officers as a result of that finding. So I would encourage the public to see those due process processes as separate and distinct with different goals - both valid in their own right - but very different.
But does it not kind of infringe a bit on an officer's ability to do their job if their credibility is called into question in the public square, especially in a small police department?
I think it should infringe on their ability to do their job. As a country we hold law enforcement to a high standard and generally speaking in New Hampshire in the various departments that I've worked with, many other states that I've worked in, most police officers are upstanding - they take their oath and their obligations very seriously. But there's a small percentage - and we've seen that recently specifically in Manchester - that abuse that authority, abused that power and don't earn or deserve the public's trust. I think that with more transparency with the awareness that their misdeeds will be public immediately and will be open to public scrutiny, that sunshine will perhaps encourage or force more compliance.
The perception that "I can do this and nobody will know - I can get away with it," that harms not only that officer's credibility but it harms law enforcement's ability as a whole to do their job. Good cops don't like bad cops either. And I've seen that time and again in the time that I've worked that there are very few officers that actually have these issues. And I think the list disclosed by the attorney general's office makes that apparent. But the bad apples make it harder for everybody else.
But again, what about officers who may face allegations false accusations against them?
I think the risk of false allegations are mitigated by the process that would still happen, and the process of going and getting on the list in the first place. I do. I do.
But I also think that the issue is bigger than the courtroom. I think the issue is the general public and the general confidence in policing and the confidentiality of these lists of these officers who are being paid with public tax dollars. It creates a sense of distrust - a general sense of distrust - not just in the criminal defense community but in the community as a whole. And I have that difficult conversation with colleagues in other states, with colleagues here in New Hampshire and with friends who see the news about what's happening nationally or they look at the story about what's been happening in Manchester, and they question that. And encouraging them to consider how rare these stories actually are and how isolated they are is difficult.
Generally I have confidence in our law enforcement. But I would have greater confidence if I knew what was on the list..