Christine Stuart photo
Packed FOIC hearing room (Christine Stuart photo)

A Freedom of Information hearing officer heard motions Tuesday in a complaint seeking the names, addresses, and photographs of New Haven residents enrolled in a controversial municipal identification card program.

The ID cards are believed to be the first in the country designed specifically to bring undocumented people out of the shadows and to give them access to community and banking services. The cards are available to all Elm City residents, even if they are documented citizens.

In a packed room Tuesday, Freedom of Information Commission hearing officer Sherman London consolidated two complaints. One was filed by Chris Powell, the managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, who told the commission he was just representing himself in the matter and that the newspaper was not involved. The other complaint was filed by Dustin Gold, who was represented by Michael Hethmon, an attorney from the Immigration Reform Law Institute.

Most of the more than two hour hearing dealt with granting two parties intervener status. The first party was Debra Torres, an attorney who represents the unnamed individuals who have received the ID cards from the city. In order not to compromise their identities, Torres suggested they submit affidavits for the commission to review and provide third party witnesses who would be able to testify to the risk they face if their identities are revealed.

The “Doe interveners can’t participate without giving the complainants the information they seek in this case,” Torres said.

Mr. London said both Mr. Powell and Mr. Hethmon would have the ability to cross-examine the witnesses, but would not have access to the affidavits.

The FOIC’s lawyer, Lisa Segal, said she was trying to find a middle ground.

“The heart of this case is names and addresses and we’re trying to work around that in a way that’s fair to both parties,” Ms. Segal said, adding that the affidavits would be given less weight as evidence than the witness testimony because the complainants wouldn’t have an opportunity to question the individuals submitting the affidavits.

The second intervener was the state of Connecticut. Assistant Attorney General Steven Strom said he is representing the state Department of Emergency Management, intervening on behalf of the city. Strom said that exposing this information “would put people’s lives at risk.”

Strom said the city of New Haven could have filed a motion to dismiss the complaints because the Commissioner of Emergency Management and Homeland Security is actually the proper party in this matter based on changes made to the Freedom of Information Act in 2007. (See section 19).

Mr. Powell did not object to the state entering the case as an intervener on behalf of the city, but he pointed out that the city made an independent judgment to deny the FOIA request before the state got involved.

Evidence and witness testimony in the case will be presented at 10 a.m. Monday, March 31 at 20 Trinity Street in Hartford.