NY.gov Portal State Agency Listing

 

February 18, 1993

 

 

Mr. Julio Figueroa
Drawer B
Stormville, N.Y. 12582

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.

Dear Mr. Figueroa:

I have received your letter of January 31 in which you sought
assistance in obtaining records from your trial attorney and from
the Kings County District Attorney. In brief, you have sought an
variety of records relating to your arrest.

In this regard, I point out that the Committee on Open
Government is authorized to provide advice concerning the Freedom
of Information Law. The Committee is not empowered to enforce that
statute or to compel an agency to grant or deny access to records.
However, based on a review of your correspondence, I offer the
following comments.

First, the Freedom of Information Law is applicable to agency
records, and §86(3) of the Law defines the term "agency" to mean:

"any state or municipal department, board,
bureau, division, commission, committee,
public authority, public corporation, council,
office or other governmental entity performing
a governmental or proprietary function for the
state or any one or more municipalities
thereof, except the judiciary or the state
legislature."

In view of the foregoing, an office of a district attorney is
clearly an agency subject to the Freedom of Information Law.
Ordinarily, an attorney or attorney's office would not constitute
an agency, and records maintained by an attorney or his or her
office fall beyond the coverage of the Freedom of Information Law.

Second, as a general matter the Freedom of Information Law is
based upon a presumption of access. Stated differently, all
records of an agency are available, except to the extent that
records or portions thereof fall within one or more grounds for
denial appearing in section 87(2)(a) through (i) of the Law. Since
I am unaware of the contents of the records in which you are
interested, or the effects of their disclosure, I cannot offer
specific guidance. Nevertheless, the following paragraphs will
review the provisions that may be significant in determining rights
of access to the records in question.

Since you referred to various grand jury related records, it
is my view that those records could be withheld if requested under
the Freedom of Information Law. The first ground for denial,
§87(2)(a), pertains to records that "are specifically exempted from
disclosure by state or federal statute". One such statute,
§190.25(4) of the CPL, states in relevant part that:

"Grand jury proceedings are secret, and no
grand juror, or other person specified in
subdivision three of this section or section
215.70 of the penal law, may, except in the
lawful discharge of his duties or upon written
order of the court, disclose the nature or
substance of any grand jury testimony,
evidence, or any decision, result or other
matter attending a grand jury proceeding."

Further, "subdivision three" of §190.25 includes specific reference
to the district attorney. As such, grand jury minutes would be
outside the scope of rights conferred by the Freedom of Information
Law. Any disclosure of those records would be based upon a court
order or perhaps a vehicle authorizing or requiring disclosure that
is separate and distinct from the Freedom of Information Law.

Of potential significance is section 87(2)(b) of the Freedom of
Information Law, which permits an agency to withhold records or
portions thereof when disclosure would constitute "an unwarranted
invasion of personal privacy". That provision might be applicable
relative to the deletion of identifying details in a variety of
situations, i.e., where a record identifies a confidential source
or a witness, for example.

Perhaps the most relevant provision concerning access to
records maintained by law enforcement agencies is section 87(2)(e),
which permits an agency to withhold records that:

"are compiled for law enforcement purposes and
which, if disclosed, would:

i. interfere with law enforcement
investigations or judicial proceedings;

ii. deprive a person of a right to a fair
trial or impartial adjudication;

iii" identify a confidential source or
disclose confidential information relating to
a criminal investigation; or

iv. reveal criminal investigative techniques
or procedures, except routine techniques and
procedures."

In my view, the foregoing indicates that records compiled for law
enforcement purposes can only be withheld to the extent that
disclosure would result in the harmful effects described in sub-
paragraphs (i) through (iv) of section 87(2)(e).

Another possible ground for denial is section 87(2)(f), which
permits withholding to the extent that disclosure "would endanger
the life or safety of any person". The capacity to withhold on
that basis is dependent upon the facts and circumstances concerning
an event.

The last relevant ground for denial is section 87(2)(g). The
cited provision permits an agency to withhold records that:

"are inter-agency or intra-agency materials
which are not:

i. statistical or factual tabulations or data;

ii. instructions to staff that affect the
public;

iii. final agency policy or determinations; or

iv. external audits, including but not
limited to audits performed by the comptroller
and the federal government... "

It is noted that the language quoted above contains what in effect
is a double negative. While inter-agency or intra-agency materials
may be withheld, portions of such materials consisting of
statistical or factual information, instructions to staff that
affect the public, final agency policy or determinations or
external audits must be made available, unless a different ground
for denial applies. Concurrently, those portions of inter-agency
or intra-agency materials that are reflective of opinion, advice,
recommendation and the like could in my view be withheld.

Records prepared by employees of an agency and communicated
within the agency or to another agency would in my view fall within
the scope of section 87(2) (g). Those records might include
opinions or recommendations, for example, that could be withheld.

Lastly, I point out that in a decision concerning a request
for records maintained by the office of a district attorney that
would ordinarily be exempted from disclosure under the Freedom of
Information Law, it was held that "once the statements have been
used in open court, they have lost their cloak of confidentiality
and are available for inspection by a member o the public" [see
Moore v. Santucci, 151 AD 2d 677, 679 (1989)]. Based upon that
decision, it appears that records introduced into evidence or
disclosed during a public judicial proceeding should be available.

I hope that I have been of some assistance.

Sincerely,

Robert J. Freeman
Executive Director

RJF:pb