Town can withhold records of investigation of police chief
CONNECTICUT–In a late March decision, the state appellate court in Hartford ruled that Rocky Hill town manager O. Paul Shew may withhold records gathered in 1992 by attorneys investigating charges against the former town police chief. The appellate court, affirming a trial court decision and reversing the ruling of the state Freedom of Information Commission (FOIC), held that the records were protected by the attorney-client privilege and did not need to be disclosed under the state public records law.
When legal advice is sought from an attorney, the attorney-client privilege permanently protects from disclosure any confidential communications relating to that purpose.
Here, the appellate court held that the employee interviews were exempt from disclosure because the attorneys were hired by the town and were acting in a professional capacity for the town. In addition, the employees were all current town employees, the interviews related to the advice the town sought from the attorneys and the information was given in confidence.
In April 1993, police chief Philip Schnabel was fired for abuse of authority. Prior to his dismissal, Shew conducted an extensive investigation into the charges against Schnabel. Shew hired attorneys to interview town employees and gather evidence against Schnabel.
In December 1993, long-time Schnabel critic and community cable- TV commentator Edward Peruta requested access to all documents collected during the investigation that resulted in Schnabel’s termination. Shew denied Peruta’s request and Peruta filed a complaint with the FOIC.
The FOIC determined that the records were public records and must be disclosed. Shew appealed to the trial court in Hartford and the court reversed the decision of the FOIC.
In affirming the trial court’s decision, the appellate court noted that Shew hired the attorneys to obtain information needed to supply a basis for legal advice involving the possible termination of Schnabel. This information, the appellate court held, was consistent with “the fundamental purposes of the attorney-client privilege.” (Shew v. Freedom of Information Commission; FOIC Counsel: Victor Perpetua, Hartford)