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A Manhattan judge on Tuesday ordered New York City to release hundreds of written and audio records that recount the fire department’s response to the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Supreme Court Justice Richard F. Braun, ruling in an Article 78 proceeding brought by The New York Times, said the city had failed to articulate sufficient reasons for shielding most of the records it wished to keep secret from the public. But Justice Braun said he would allow the city to shield certain portions of documents, such as opinions and recommendations of firefighters who were interviewed after Sept. 11, and intra-agency materials that would be used by the city to create and amend policies. “Freedom of access by the press and public to government information preserves a free society,” Braun wrote in New York Times Company v. City of New York Fire Department, 110753/02. “The press and public should be permitted to obtain as much non-exempt information as available in relation to one of the most poignant episodes of our lifetimes.” Among the records in question are telephone calls from trapped World Trade Center victims to emergency 911 operators, radio transmissions between firefighters, and “oral histories” from firefighters and emergency medical workers who were asked to recount their roles in responding to the attacks. The Corporation Counsel’s Office had offered numerous arguments for keeping the records secret, including that many were collected to aid the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the prosecution of accused terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, who is being prosecuted in federal court in Virginia. The office argued that because the records were compiled for this purpose, they fell under a law enforcement exemption in New York’s freedom of information law. Justice Braun said the law enforcement defense failed, noting that all of the sought-after records had been turned over to Moussaoui’s defense team, and that the city had not shown “that there would be any harm by the disclosure.” City attorneys also said the privacy of firefighters would be violated if the city released the taped oral histories and the transmissions between firefighters. But Braun said that as public employees, the firefighters and emergency 911 operators were not entitled to the same expectations of privacy as citizens. All factual aspects of the oral histories should be disclosed, the judge said, but the city could shield opinions offered by the firefighters who were interviewed. The judge said the transmissions between firefighters and the comments of 911 dispatchers — though not those of the victims to whom they were speaking — should be released, unless the statements were intra-agency material for making new emergency policies. Braun said that discussions of secure routes into Manhattan and where command posts should be set up would not be privileged information, as the city had contended. NINE VICTIMS The judge also said the city had to release calls between 911 operators and nine victims whose families filed a friend-of-the-court brief along with The New York Times. David E. McGraw, an attorney at The Times, said, “We’re pleased that the judge allowed the disclosure of so much of these materials.” But he added that the paper was disappointed in the judge’s decision to shield other documents. The city could not be reached for comment before press time.

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