Monday, September 03, 2007

How Paula Schwartz Shows Good Faith, Clean Hands

News & Commentary

She Breaks The FOI Law
With Impunity -- So Far ....

"Is there a problem here?"

Public Records Delay Is A Violation Of The Law

The Cool Justice Report
Sept. 3, 2007

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is available for reprint courtesy of The Cool Justice Report,

This came up -- before inquiry was shut down -- in U.S. District Court, New Haven, Friday.

Regional District 10 School Superintendent Paula Schwartz admitted denying public records to Avery Doninger the previous day. Doninger was trying to research board of education policies which were readily available and in plain view.

Judge Mark Kravitz remarked during closing arguments about Region 10 policies in general: " ... I wonder if it suggests ... there should be a policy that is available and [not] actually hidden away in the superintendent's office."

Still, when Attorney Jon Schoenhorn tried to press Schwartz on her failure to produce public records in compliance with Connecticut's Freedom of Information Act, Krarvitz interjected. The judge questioned, in a mocking tone, whether FOI violations were among the counts in the pending civil rights suit.

The inquiry ended, but not before Schwartz was forced to admit her practice and policy to stifle access to public records.

Before visiting Schwartz's office, Doninger -- a 17-year-old senior who returns to school Tuesday -- went to the Burlington Public Library and Town Hall looking for the hidden policies. Town Hall personnel directed her to the school district central office.

After Avery Doninger was shown the book of policies and she requested a viewing, Schwartz came out of her sanctum and asked, "Is there a problem here?"

"Yes," Avery Doninger responded. The student said she was trying, unsuccessfully, to view public records.

Beat it, kid, was the message.

"She was told to make an appointment," Schwartz testified.

The Connecticut Freedom of Information Act compels officials to produce public records promptly.

Undue delay for no valid reason is a violation.

If officials want to provide security for records, they must provide such security.

If they are short-staffed or otherwise encumbered, they must prove this claim to a majority of the Freedom of Information Commission. They cannot as a matter of course require appointments to review records.

For example, if a book of records is easily accessible and a citizen would like to view said book during regular business hours, it would be reasonable for a staff person to provide the book to the citizen and continue working in the same room.

This did not happen.

  • Travesty


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