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When Russell Collins practiced in Houston, some of his colleagues developed business by systematically mailing prospect letters to newly charged criminal defendants whose names, charges and addresses were gathered from court dockets. He thought he could do the same thing here. After Collins became a Connecticut lawyer in 2001, he sent a letter to the clerk of the Meriden Superior Court asking to inspect the court’s “pending book” and “daybooks” for the month of January 2002. Those chronicle matters filed in each court and identify the parties. The bid for data, however, has erupted into controversy pitting court officials, who have steadfastly denied Collins’ request, against the state Freedom of Information Commission. The FOIC sided with Collins at the administrative level, but lost in Superior Court and is now appealing the case. Collins, who now works for the Bridgeport, Conn., firm of Klein & Becker, also asked for records of pre-arraignment criminal cases for a three-week period, showing whether the defendant was represented by counsel or jailed. He specifically noted that he was not requesting information about sealed cases or cases restricted by state law. When the clerk denied his requests, Collins turned to the FOIC, which held a hearing. Although the Judicial Branch is largely exempt from the state Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), its administrative records are not. Section 1-200(1)(A) of the act includes under its definition of public agency “any judicial office, official, or body or committee thereof but only with respect to its or their administrative functions.” The FOIC’s Clifton A. Leonhardt, sitting as a hearing officer, found that much of what Collins was seeking is contained in the state’s criminal motor vehicle system (CRMVS) and noted that those records have both administrative and adjudicative functions. On Nov. 13, 2002, Leonhardt ruled that, for FOI purposes, the records are administrative. He ordered the Judicial Branch to periodically allow Collins to inspect the CRMVS. The Meriden clerk promptly appealed the FOIC ruling, which was heard by New Britain Superior Court Judge Trial Referee Arnold W. Aronson. MURKY GUIDANCE The case law cited by Aronson does not clearly define the differences between adjudicative records and administrative records. The 1984 state Supreme Court case of Rules Committee of the Superior Court v. FOIC defined “administrative functions” as matters “relating to the management of the internal institutional machinery of the court system.” Victor R. Perpetua, the FOIC lawyer handling the appeal before Aronson, argued in his brief that the type of docketing information Collins sought has long been viewed as falling within the courts’ internal management. He cited 1977 Judiciary Committee testimony in which lawmakers were told the FOIC had ordered the release of jury dockets listing litigants and counsel, the judge assigned, and the time and place the case was to be called. Perpetua noted that all of the courts’ administrative functions “relate in some way to the Judicial Branch’s central adjudicative function.” The FOIC was correct in allowing access to the motor vehicles criminal database, Perpetua argued, since CRMVS “is simply another manifestation of a clerk’s administrative responsibilities concerning docketing and file management, [and] is an administrative function.” But the issue, as Aronson framed it, “is whether judicial branch records that contain a blend of administrative and adjudicative functions are required to be disclosed under the FOIA.” He noted that, in the 1988 state Supreme Court case of Connecticut Bar Examiners v. FOIC, the high court considered the bar examiners to be performing both administrative and judicial functions, and sent the case back to the trial court to differentiate between administrative and adjudicative records. That case also had a caveat that the trial judge could determine whether the FOI request would significantly impede the examiners’ judicial function. Aronson interpreted that to mean that, even if the information requested is administrative, it can be refused if doing so would significantly impede a judicial function. The Meriden court clerk had testified at the FOI hearing that it took her four or five hours just to check two days of “daybooks” to redact exempt information concerning juveniles, sealed records and erased records, the judge noted. In the FOIC decision, Leonhardt wrote that, as information technology improves, more records can be provided by the Judicial Branch’s highly modern information system without interfering with its judicial function. He stayed his order 90 days to allow the Meriden clerk time to comply. But Aronson said the FOIC’s finding that the records included both adjudicative and administrative features prevented it from ruling that the records requested are purely administrative. He sustained the Judicial Branch appeal last November. The FOIC is currently appealing that ruling. Perpetua argued in his brief that the clerk created unnecessary work by redacting the paper records. The electronic CRMVS database was constantly updated and could be directed to only release information which is clearly public record data. He quoted from the landmark 2002 state Supreme Court decision of Hartford Courant v. FOIC, which held that clearly “the legislature envisioned the precise issue before this court, namely, a situation in which an agency cannot comply with a request for information because it does not have the technological capability to separate exempt from non-exempt data.” The court in that case held that the Department of Correction had to provide the Courant with its database of convictions, provided the Courant paid to reprogram the database to eliminate exempt information fields. Aronson did not address the Courant opinion in his decision.

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