Editor’s note: This letter is courtesy of the Cool Justice Report which can be found at http://cooljustice.blogspot.com
Complaint / Request For Hearing
Re: Denial Of Public Records Request By Regional District 10 School System
State Freedom of Information Commission
18-20 Trinity St.
Hartford, CT 06106
Dear Ms. or Sir:
This is a formal complaint following denial of a request for public records
Please see request letter to School Superintendent Paula Schwartz dated Aug. 1 and denial contained in letter from the district’s attorney also dated Aug. 1.
In my request letter, I asked for – among other items – copies of the write-in votes submitted for the election of Avery Doninger as secretary for the Lewis Mills High School Class of 2008. A civil rights lawsuit claims school officials removed Doninger from the ballot in the spring of 2007 as punishment for her constitutionally-protected activity, including trying to involve the community in securing a venue for a concert.
There were numerous witnesses to the submission of the write-in votes. There were scores of such votes submitted, perhaps more than 100. As one Lewis Mills student wrote:
“On the day of elections everyone (I mean everyone) wrote in the girls name next to ‘Secretary’ and circled it. At the end of the day when they had to tell us who won they said that the elections were so close that they were going to give kids who weren’t there a chance to vote the next day. The girl who won only had like 7 votes because everyone voted for the girl who wasn’t running.”
In her denial, Christine Chinni, attorney for Region 10, wrote: “The Board does not poses [sic] any copies of the write-in votes for Ms. Doninger or memos and emails regarding such write-in votes … Accordingly, the board will not be providing any documents in response to these requests.”
It is certain that these documents existed. They still might exist.
Also certain is attorney Chinni’s issue with candor. As the commission can see from my request and Chinni’s reponse, she was less than forthright regarding work by her firm and the firm of Howd &Ludorf related to the ongoing civil rights lawsuit against the district. I was careful in my request to say, “These records include but are not limited to … ” At the very least, attorney Chinni could have provided copies of her appearance and the motion to move the case to federal court, which she signed along with attorneys from the other firm.
Key questions remain: Did someone destroy these votes? Are they hidden in some secret location? Who made the decision on what should be done with these documents?
In lieu of requesting subpoenas for witnesses from the school district at this time, I request that the district voluntarily send administrators and other staff with direct knowledge of the handling of the write-in votes to testify under oath at the hearing.
In a related request dated Aug. 2, I also asked the district to produce records of who was on the ballot, who was taken off the ballot, who was solicited to run by the administration and who “won” various elections without factoring in the write-in votes. This request is pending. A copy of the Aug. 2 letter is contained with this package.
As you know, jurisdiction over the destruction of public records rests with the State Public Records Administrator and criminal enforcement powers under §1-240, G.S., resides in the applicable State’s Attorney.
I ask the commission to find that the requested record is a public record within the meaning of §1-210(a), G.S.
For a related case raising these issues, please see FIC 2002-012, Thibault v. Zinn, in which a first selectman destroyed a memo regarding the placement of a black Santa Claus at town hall. The commission found that the requested record was a public record, appropriate referrals were made and an investigation by the state police major crime squad followed, confirming the destruction of a public record.
Also, I seek the imposition of a $1,000 fine for failure to produce the public record in compliance with the FOI law, as well as mandatory attendance at FOI workshops for the responsible parties and any other sanctions, penalties or admonitions as the commission deems proper.
As United States citizens, we hold dear the right to vote and the promise of free and open elections. If we do not hold ourselves to these standards, and the standards of freedom of information, the U.S. Constitution and the Connecticut Constitution, what are we teaching our children?
Because of the grave issues in the public interest connected with this case, I request an expedited hearing. The students of Lewis Mills High School, their parents and families and all taxpayers and citizens in Connecticut deserve these answers in a timely manner. A court injunction could force a new election in September, and everyone has a right to know how the prior election was handled or mishandled.