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FOI Hearing Officer Rules Against City


February 28, 2009

The city and the subcontractor in charge of its massive schools construction project must release all information turned over to the state criminal grand jury investigating allegations of corruption at city hall, according to a preliminary decision of the state Freedom of Information Commission.

In two separate preliminary decisions dated Feb. 20, a hearing officer for the commission rejected the city's position that public records held by the city and by Diggs Construction were protected from disclosure because they were part of the investigatory grand jury.

The decisions are not final and will be discussed and voted on at a meeting of the full FOI commission on March 11.

A state criminal grand jury has been investigating Mayor Eddie A. Perez for nearly a year and a half. Last month, Perez was arrested on bribery charges related to allegedly discounted work done on his home by a city contractor.

The contractor has said he never intended to get paid; the mayor, who paid him after investigators started asking questions, said he always intended to pay. At the time, prosecutors said the investigation was ongoing and that they expected more arrests.

One topic known to be of interest to the grand jury is the city's schools construction project.

Last July, The Courant requested copies of all subpoenas from law enforcement officials that the city and Diggs Construction had received since Jan. 1, 2006. The newspaper also requested copies of all documents and records turned over in response to such subpoenas in that same time frame.

In both cases, the request was denied. The city and Diggs said they would not produce "any part of the record of an ongoing grand jury investigation."

In August, The Courant filed two complaints with the state's FOI commission seeking the release of the documents. An attorney for Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane later weighed in, backing the city's position that the subpoenas and records should not be disclosed.

In reports issued this week, hearing officer Victor Perpetua said the statutes that keep the proceedings of the investigatory grand juries secret are "plain and unambiguous" and that they apply only to the grand jury. They do not apply to the city, Perpetua said.

Additionally, Perpetua found there was no evidence that the grand jury subpoenas had prohibitions limiting the disclosure of information received from, or provided to, the grand jury.

Lastly, Perpetua found no evidence that the disclosure of the information in question "would in any way prejudice any proceedings being conducted by the grand jury."

In a statement, Perez spokeswoman Sarah Barr said that although city officials have not seen the proposed decisions, they have seen a letter from Kane instructing them not to disclose information.

"The city desires to follow the law," Barr wrote. "Two state agencies can't agree, and [they] have put the city in the middle."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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