Court finds for media, overrules old right-to-know decision

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The New Hampshire Supreme Court on Friday found in favor of two news media organizations requesting police-related records, and in doing so, overruled its decision in a 1993 right-to-know law case that broadly allowed government agencies to withhold information.

Government agencies have used an “internal personnel practices" exemption in the law to withhold information, such as police officer misconduct or how a school district responded to allegations of sexual abuse by a former teacher, said the ACLU of New Hampshire, co-counsel in the media cases.

The state Supreme Court said its 1993 decision “broadly interpreted" that exemption and overruled prior decisions to the extent that they relied on that broad interpretation. It also overruled prior decisions that applied a rule saying records related to “internal personnel practices" are exempt from disclosure.

One justice, Anna Barbara Hantz Marconi, issued separate opinions in which she did not see a need to overrule the 1993 case.

Gilles Bissonnette of the ACLU of New Hampshire said the rulings have “restored the promises of transparency and accountability" in the right-to-know law and state constitution.

The cases involve the Union Leader Corporation, which sought unredacted audits of the Salem Police Department, and Seacoast Newspapers Inc., which requested an arbitration decision on a fired Portsmouth police officer.

The cases were sent back to lower courts for reconsideration.