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Political board won't appeal overturning of its own decision

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Political board won't appeal overturning of its own decision09/25/95 CONNECTICUT--The state Freedom of Information Commission decided in mid-September that it…

Political board won’t appeal overturning of its own decision

09/25/95

CONNECTICUT–The state Freedom of Information Commission decided in mid-September that it would not join The Hartford Courant in appealing a Superior Court decision denying access to a police report on a domestic disturbance involving Connecticut Governor John Rowland and his ex-wife. The Commission had ruled in November 1994 that the report should be disclosed.

The Commission, three of whose members were recently appointed by Gov. Rowland, voted 2-1 against joining the paper in appealing the decision. One of the commission members recused himself from the vote on conflict-of-interest grounds.

The vote overruled the recommendations of the commission’s own executive director and general counsel, Mitchell W. Pearlman, who warned that the legal issue raised by the case “will come back to us time after time.”

In September of last year, during Rowland’s gubernatorial campaign, a Courant political reporter, Craig Baggott, had made oral and written requests to the Middlebury Police Department for reports on the incident at the Rowland home.

Police Chief Patrick J. Bona eventually provided the newspaper with a copy of the “incident history” but denied full disclosure of the reports, asserting they contained uncorroborated allegations. The law calls for law enforcement agencies to alter copies of incident reports by removal of “any uncorroborated information which, if publicly known, would significantly damage the reputation of a person not convicted of a crime related to such uncorroborated information.”

The released incident history revealed that Deborah Rowland made a complaint to the department on April 10, 1994, the subject matter of which was described as “Family offenses, Nonviolent” and “verbal between husband and wife.”

The newspaper had appealed the chief’s refusal to disclose the full report to the state FOIC, and in late October 1994, an FOIC composed of then-Governor Lowell P. Weicker Jr.’s appointees voted 4-0 to order the reports disclosed. Rowland challenged the ruling in Superior Court, and the court stayed the disclosure of the records.

The Courant argued that the report was not compiled in connection with the investigation of a crime because Ms. Rowland apparently told police she did not wish them to take any further action.

Judge Bertefeuille, after examining the incident report in her chambers, rejected the newspaper’s arguments because the report specifies a violation of the penal code.

The state FOIC’s most recent decision not to join the Courant in its late-August appeal of Judge Bertefeuille’s decision will not affect the status of that appeal. (Rowland v. Freedom of Information Commission; Media Counsel: Ralph Elliot, Hartford)