July 25, 1994
Mr. Reggie Harris
Riverview Corr. Facility
PO Box 247
Ogdensburg, NY 13669
The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the information presented in your correspondence.
Dear Mr. Harris:
I have received your letter of July 19. You wrote that the Legal Aid Society in Brooklyn represented you in the "early stages" of your case. Having requested records from that office, you received no responses.
In this regard, the statute within the advisory jurisdiction of the Committee on Open Government, the Freedom of Information Law, pertains to records maintained by agencies. Section 86(3) of the Freedom of Information 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."
Therefore, in general, the Freedom of Information Law is applicable to entities of state and local government.
It is my understanding the there are a variety of entities within New York that use the name "Legal Aid Society". Some are a part of the federal Legal Services Corporation, some may be private not-for profit corporations, and some may be parts of units of local government. While legal aid societies which are agencies of local government may be subject to the Freedom of Information Law, most are not "agencies" as that term is defined in the Freedom of Information Law and, as such, are not subject to that statute.
I am not fully familiar with the specific status of the Legal Aid Society in question. However, I believe that it is a corporate entity separate and distinct from government, that it is not an "agency" subject to the Freedom of Information Law and that, therefore, the records in which you are interested are outside the scope of public rights of access.
In view of the foregoing, it is suggested that you discuss the matter with an attorney. I hope that I have been of some assistance.
Robert J. Freeman