February 10, 1997
Mr. Tom Lisborg
Master of Science in Engineering
Drejogade 26 F, Apartment 13
DK-2100 Copenhagen O
Dear Mr. Lisborg:
I have received your letter of February 2, which reached this office today. You have requested from the Committee on Open Government a variety of records, particularly those pertaining to a Surrogate's Court proceeding.
In this regard, the Committee on Open Government is authorized to provide advice concerning the Freedom of Information Law. The Committee does not maintain possession or control of records generally, and it has no power to compel an entity to grant or deny access to records. In short, this office does not maintain the records in which you are interested. Nevertheless, I offer the following comments and suggestions.
First, the Freedom of Information Law pertains to agency records, and §86(3) of that statute defines the term "agency" to include:
"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 turn, §86(1) defines the term "judiciary" to mean:
"the courts of the state, including any municipal or district court, whether or not of record."
Based on the foregoing, the Freedom of Information Law does not pertain to the courts or court records. This is not to suggest that court records are confidential; on the contrary, court records in many instances must be made available by the court or court clerk. In the case of a Surrogate's Court, §2501 of the Surrogate's Court Procedure Act states in relevant part that:
"1. The clerk of the court shall keep a record of and be responsible for the proper indexing, filing or recording, as the case may be, collating, arranging, restoring and preserving of all records, documents, books, maps, instruments and other matter specified in this article or by other requirement of law heretofore or hereafter deposited, filed or recorded, of all matters specified by this article or by other requirement of law...
8. All books and records other than those sealed are open to inspection of any person at reasonable times."
Therefore, insofar as records in which you are interested are maintained by a Surrogate's Court, I believe that they would be available, except to the extent that the records may be sealed. It is suggested that you direct a request to the clerk of the Surrogate's Court in New York County.
Second, insofar as records in which you are interested might be maintained by an "agency", the Freedom of Information Law would be applicable. It is emphasized, however, that there is no central source, database or agency that would maintain all records pertaining to an individual. As such, a request for records must be directed to the agency or agencies that maintain the records. I note, too, that §89(3) of the Freedom of Information Law requires that an applicant "reasonably describe" the records sought. Therefore, a request should include sufficient detail to enable agency staff to locate the records.
Pursuant to regulations promulgated by the Committee on Open Government, each agency is required to designate one or more persons as "records access officer." The records access officer has the duty of coordinating an agency's response to requests, and a request may be directed to the records access officer at the agency or agencies that you believe would maintain records sought.
I would conjecture that the records in which you are interested would be maintained primarily by the Surrogate's Court. However, in the event that records of interest might be maintained by one or more agencies, enclosed is a copy of a brochure that describes the Freedom of Information Law and includes a sample letter of request. I hope that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman
cc: Chief Clerk
New York County
31 Chambers Street
New York, NY 10007