Court blocks release of candidate’s domestic dispute records
CONNECTICUT — Four days before the state’s November gubernatorial election, the superior court stayed a state Freedom of Information Commission decision ordering the Middlebury police chief to release a report about an alleged domestic dispute between gubernatorial candidate John Rowland and his former wife. Rowland won the four-way contest with 36 percent of the vote, 4 points more than the Democratic candidate.
The Hartford Courant brought the case before the Commission in mid-October after Police Chief Patrick Bona, described by the New York Times as a Rowland supporter, refused to give the report to the paper.
Bona appealed the Commission’s order to the superior court on grounds that the report fell within a state open records act exemption. The exemption prevents disclosure of law enforcement records containing uncorroborated allegations of crime, which the Act requires agencies to destroy after a certain period of time.
The court held that the police report was such a document, reasoning that if the allegations were true, the report would constitute evidence that an individual had committed at least one criminal offense, a misdemeanor. The court did not specify what that misdemeanor would be or who would have committed it.
The Commission had found that the report did not allege criminal activity within the meaning of the Act. The court disagreed with that conclusion in light of a section of the report identifying the type of criminal offense that might be at issue.
The court had previously reviewed and sealed the police report in question pending its ruling on Middlebury Police Chief Patrick Bona’s appeal and request for a stay of the Commission decision. The report will remain under seal until the court instructs otherwise.
The court granted the stay after concluding that Bona was substantially likely to win his appeal, that denial of the stay would irreparably harm Bona, and that the potential harm to Rowland’s privacy outweighed the public interest in disclosure.
A document that Bona did release indicates that in early April, Deborah Rowland called Middlebury police to her home. According to the New York Times, police characterized the incident as a verbal dispute, and say that no one was arrested or reported any violence.
(Bona v. Freedom of Information Commission)