Lawyers for a group of newspapers and the ACLU of New Hampshire were in Superior Court on Thursday calling for the release of a secret list of police officers who may have credibility issues. The N.H Attorney General’s office is fighting the release of the so-called “Laurie List,” saying it would violate current state law.
In criminal courts, prosecutors must turn over any evidence that could help exonerate the defendant. In practice, that can include past misconduct by a police officer involved in the case. But since the defense wouldn’t normally have access to an officer’s disciplinary record, the state of New Hampshire, since 1995, has maintained a list of officers with potential credibility issues. When such an officer is involved in a criminal case, the defense gets notified.
The question in this case is if the list, which right now contains the names of roughly 170 New Hampshire police officers, should be made public.
“Frankly, your honor, we think the public interest in disclosure here is obvious,” said ACLU attorney Gilles Bissonnette during a hearing in Nashua.
“We’re dealing with misconduct here that goes to heart of what a police officer does. That police officer’s trustworthiness, and credibility. Character traits that go to the core of an officer’s job functions.”
Bissonnette cited possible examples: officers accused of criminal misconduct, dereliction of duty, planting evidence or excessive use of force.
The ACLU is joined in this case by the Center for Public Interest Journalism and newspapers including the Concord Monitor and Union Leader. To them, the seriousness of these allegations should tip the scales in favor of public disclosure under the state’s Right to Know law.
The Attorney General sees differently. For starters, the AG’s office, while keeper of the “Laurie List,” isn’t the agency that actually adds names to it. That’s done either by a police chief or a county attorney, which, the AG contends, means it’s coming straight out of the officer’s personnel file.
“Per legislative directive, this is strictly confidential stuff,” said state Solicitor General Dan Will.
For Will, that’s what this case centers on: whether or not the “Laurie List” amounts to a personnel record, and therefore is protected from release under current state statute.
“And I think it is indisputable that this list constitutes police personnel file material. That’s exactly what it is,” he told Judge Charles Temple.
After about an hour of oral arguments, the judge said he’s open to seeing more evidence from both sides in writing. No matter how Temple rules, this case could ultimately be decided by the N.H. Supreme Court.