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State high court declines to consider whether public has right to see fire official's records

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    News Media Update         LOUISIANA         Freedom of Information         April 8, 2005    

State high court declines to consider whether public has right to see fire official’s records

  • An assistant fire chief’s disciplinary records will remain secret after the Louisiana Supreme Court last week refused to consider lower court rulings that his right to privacy trumps the public’s right to know.

April 8, 2005 — The Louisiana Supreme Court has refused, without comment, to review lower court decisions to shield an assistant fire chief’s disciplinary records from the public.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the high court in March, urging reversal of lower court rulings that the disciplinary records of Assistant Chief Edward Goldman of the East Bank Consolidated Special Service Fire Protection District in Jefferson, La., do not have to be released.

The Reporters Committee argued that disciplinary records are clearly a matter of public interest and should be released because government officials such as Goldman are entrusted with duties critical to a community’s well-being such as teaching, law enforcement and emergency response.

Firefighter Mikel Crossen sought Goldman’s records in 2003 to help defend himself against a disciplinary action. Crossen hoped that the requested disciplinary records would show that Goldman, who was his supervisor, had a history of unjustified actions against subordinates.

The fire department and Goldman sued Crossen, arguing that the state constitutional right to privacy protected the records from disclosure.

A trial court ruled in Goldman’s favor, and in December, a unanimous three-judge panel of the Court of Appeal of Louisiana affirmed. Judge Clarence McManus wrote for the court that despite the fact that the public had entrusted Goldman with a job demanding a great deal of responsibility, he had the right “to be free from unnecessary public scrutiny.”

(East Bank Consolidated Special Service Fire Protection District v. Crossen; Requestor’s Counsel: Gilbert Buras; New Orleans, La.)RL

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