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City of Hartford files $300 appeal of PLN's successful $27 public records ruling

Prison Legal News, Jan. 1, 2009.
Press Release - City of Hartford files $300 appeal of PLN's successful $27 public records ruling 2009


Prison Legal News – For Immediate Release

November 23, 2009


Hartford, CT – On November 12, 2009, the City of Hartford appealed an adverse ruling by the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission, which had previously held that the City improperly denied a fee waiver in a public records request submitted by Prison Legal News (PLN), a non-profit monthly publication that reports on criminal justice-related issues. The City was ordered to produce the records without cost after the Commission found that city officials "had no objective, fair or reasonable basis for denying" the fee waiver.

Last year, PLN requested copies of documents in a lawsuit filed against the City of Hartford related to a prisoner’s suicide that resulted in a significant judgment against the City. The records were requested in electronic format, such as via email or fax, and PLN asked for a fee waiver because the documents were to be used in news reporting that would benefit the public.

The Office of Corporation Counsel denied PLN’s request for a fee waiver, arbitrarily deciding it was not in the general welfare to grant the waiver. The City also refused to produce the records in electronic format, stating they were not maintained electronically and the City was not required to fax the documents or convert them to electronic format. The City demanded a fee of $27.50 to produce paper copies of the records.

PLN appealed that decision to the Freedom of Information Commission, which ruled in PLN’s favor and ordered production of the requested records without payment of the $27.50 fee. The City vigorously opposed PLN’s request for a fee waiver before the Commission, expending City resources and staff attorney time. The City has now paid a $300 filing fee to appeal the Commission’s decision to Superior Court – which is over ten times the amount of the fee the City is seeking for copies of the public documents requested by PLN.

"This gives new meaning to 'penny-wise and pound-foolish,'" stated PLN editor Paul Wright. "The City of Hartford is spending far more money, resources and staff time in its attempt to use fees to deny media access to government records. This is a financial defeat for Hartford taxpayers, whose City attorney refused to simply fax documents by claiming his office was not required to do so."

According to a July 1, 2009 letter from Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez, the City’s budget for fiscal year 2009-2010 was "the toughest budget ever." Mayor Perez noted that "sacrifice on all levels has been made and will continue to be made" due to the “harshest economic times since the Great Depression.” Someone at the Office of Corporation Counsel must not have received that memo, since they continue to expend public funds to fight PLN’s public records case and the City stands to lose money even if it eventually prevails, having spent $300 to appeal the Commission’s ruling that rejected a $27.50 copy fee. All of which could have been avoided had the requested public documents been faxed, at no government cost or expense, to PLN.

PLN, which will vigorously oppose the City’s appeal, is represented by attorney Brett Dignam at Yale Law School’s Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization; Megan Quattlebaum, a third-year law student at Yale; and Robyn Gallagher, a second-year law student at Western New England College School of Law.

"The Freedom of Information Act says that free means free when it comes to information that will be used to benefit the general welfare. Prison Legal News provides valuable information about the legal rights of incarcerated individuals across the country, and we are proud to be able to represent them in this case," said Quattlebaum

The case is In the Matter of a Complaint by Paul Wright, et al. against Office of the Corporation Counsel, City of Hartford, FOI Commission of the State of Connecticut, Docket No. FOIC 2009-018; on appeal at Office of City Corporation v. Freedom of Information Commission, Superior Court, Judicial District of New Britain, Connecticut.

Prison Legal News (PLN), founded in 1990 and based in Seattle, Washington, is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting human rights in U.S. detention facilities. PLN publishes a monthly magazine that includes reports, reviews and analysis of court rulings and news related to prisoners’ rights and criminal justice issues. PLN has almost 7,000 subscribers nationwide and operates a website ( that includes a comprehensive database of prison and jail-related articles, news reports, court rulings, verdicts, settlements and related documents. PLN is a project of the Human Rights Defense Center.

For further information, please contact:

Paul Wright
Prison Legal News, Editor
P.O. Box 2420
West Brattleboro, VT 05303
(802) 275-8594 or
(802) 257-1342

Brett Dignam, Attorney
Yale Law School
Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization
P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520
(203) 432-8294