The transcripts from calls to Maine’s 911 Emergency Communications Bureau are public records and should remain accessible to the public, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and five media organizations argued in a brief to the Maine Supreme Court.
The friend-of-the-court brief supports an effort by Maine Today Media, publisher of the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram, to reverse a move by the state to deny access to 911 call records in a murder case by declaring them part of an investigative file. The trial court agreed that releasing the transcripts could affect trial testimony. Appealing that decision, the Reporters Committee brief argued that the move runs counter to the open government intent of the state’s Freedom of Access Act (FOAA).
“It is absurd to suggest that the legislature intended to permit the state to convert an otherwise public document into a non-public one merely by placing it in the files of a criminal justice agency,” the brief argued. “Indeed, the entire point of FOAA is to permit the public to observe the workings of government, and that interest is at its highest when the material at issue may give rise to a criminal investigation.”
Joining the brief – which was filed by Patrick Strawbridge and Stephen Quinlan at Bingham McCutchen LLP in Boston – were the New England First Amendment Coalition, Maine Association of Broadcasters, Maine Freedom of Information Coalition, Maine Press Association and The Associated Press.
“The state’s argument that withholding release of these transcripts will somehow protect the purity of witness testimony is a reach, at best, and certainly can be achieved by other means,” said Reporters Committee Freedom of Information Center Director Mark Caramanica. “Access to these transcripts is essential to public and press oversight of emergency services, sometimes revealing severe shortcomings in operations that could literally mean life or death.”
About the Reporters Committee
Founded in 1970, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press offers free legal support to thousands of working journalists and media lawyers each year. It is a leader in the fight against persistent efforts by government officials to impede the release of public information, whether by withholding documents or threatening reporters with jail. In addition to its 24/7 Legal Defense Hotline, the Reporters Committee conducts cutting-edge legal research, publishes handbooks and guides on media law issues, files frequent friend-of-the-court legal briefs and offers challenging fellowships and internships for young lawyers and journalists. For more information, go to www.rcfp.org, or follow us on Twitter @rcfp.
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