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Records of inactive case exempt from disclosure two years after complaint

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Records of inactive case exempt from disclosure two years after complaint09/11/95 MAINE--The Supreme Court in Portland ruled in late July…

Records of inactive case exempt from disclosure two years after complaint

09/11/95

MAINE–The Supreme Court in Portland ruled in late July that a law enforcement exemption in the state’s open records law allows officials to withhold records that might interfere with an enforcement proceeding two years after a complaint was filed even though police have taken no action on the complaint.

In January 1993 the Machias Savings and Loan complained to the town police that patron Lisa Campbell had stolen her loan file after meeting with a bank officer to discuss delinquent payment. Police investigated and turned the results of their investigation over to the district attorney who has never acted on the file.

In August 1993 Campbell asked the Machias police chief for access to the investigatory file and, under the direction of the district attorney, he refused to give it to her claiming that, even though there were no current plans to prosecute, evidence tying Campbell to the theft still might become available in the future.

She sued for the records under the Maine Freedom of Access Act in Superior Court in Machias. Although that court ruled in July 1994 that the records could be withheld, she later obtained many records through a subpoena issued by the U.S District Court in Bangor in a defamation action she brought there against the bank.

Affirming the trial court decision, the high court cited cases under the law enforcement exemption to the federal Freedom of Information Act allowing government agencies to withhold records on inactive cases in order to avoid interference with an ongoing investigation. (Campbell v. Town of Machias; plaintiff’s attorney: Ralph Dyer, Portland)