October 12, 2005
FROM: Robert J. Freeman, Executive Director
The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the facts presented in your correspondence.
I have received your letter in which you asked whether the Freedom of Information Law may be used to determine whether violators of a village code have paid fines that were imposed.
From my perspective, records indicating the names of those found to have engaged in violations and whether they paid fines would be accessible, either from the administrative offices of the village or from the village justice court.
I note that there is a distinction in terms of rights of access between those situations in which a person has been found to have engaged in a violation of law, and those in which charges against an individual have been dismissed in his or her favor. In the latter case, records relating to an event that did not result in a conviction ordinarily become sealed pursuant to §160.50 or perhaps other provisions of the Criminal Procedure Law. However, if it is determined that a person has engaged in a violation, i.e., of a building code, the records would be available from the court in which the proceeding occurred, such as the village justice court (see Uniform Justice Court Act, §2019-a). Further, the Court of Appeals, the State's highest court, determined in 1984 that traffic tickets issued and lists of violations of the Vehicle and Traffic Law compiled by the State Police during a certain period in a county must be disclosed, unless charges were dismissed and the records sealed pursuant to provisions of the Criminal Procedure Law [see Johnson Newspaper Corp. v. Stainkamp, 61 NY2d 958).
Although that decision did not pertain to the kinds of violations to which you referred, I believe that the principle would be applicable in this instance. In short, unless they have been sealed pursuant to statute, the records in question, including the names and addresses, would in my opinion be accessible from either the court or other village office that maintains the records.
Lastly, I point out that the courts are not subject to the Freedom of Information Law. Nevertheless, court records are generally available, and the statute referenced above, §2019-a of the Uniform Justice Court Act, states that justice court records are accessible, except when a different statute specifies that certain records are confidential, as in the case of §160.50 of the Criminal Procedure Law. If you choose to request records from the justice court, it is suggested that you do so, citing the Uniform Justice Court Act as the basis for the request.
I hope that I have been of assistance.