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A Connecticut Superior Court judge heard arguments Tuesday in a dispute over whether to bar the disclosure of the identities of more than 100 state troopers who may have falsified traffic records submitted to a racial profiling prevention group, according to a recent audit.  

Judge Rupal Shah is weighing a request by the Connecticut State Police Union to prevent the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection from complying with a Freedom of Information Act request from the Connecticut Mirror for the names and badge numbers of 130 troopers. 

The troopers were flagged in a June audit by the Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Project, which concluded there was a “high likelihood” that some state troopers had falsified reporting to the board in at least 25,966 instances.

During a short hearing Tuesday, lawyers for DESPP, the Freedom of Information Commission, and two media outlets argued that a court injunction blocking the state from releasing the names interfered with the FOI Commission’s authority over the disclosure of public records. 

“What the plaintiff is asking the court to do here would essentially scrap that entire process, scrap what the statute says, scrap what the Supreme Court said is supposed to happen,” Kevin Munn, a lawyer for the FOI Commission, said. “In other words, it would order DESPP to do something that it isn’t authorized to do.”

However, the union’s attorney, Jeffrey Ment, argued that the FOI Commission would only come into play if the agency declined to release the requested information. Based on DESPP responses to the media request, Ment concluded the agency seemed likely to release the names, leaving the union no mechanism to prevent their disclosure.

“It will be ‘the cat’s out of the bag,’ ‘the train has left the station,’ and we’ll just be sitting here reading tomorrow’s news of 130 people, 20 of whom we know didn’t do anything,” Ment said. “We have no assurances from anybody that they won’t publish all the names.”

The falsified ticket scandal is currently under investigation by a number of entities including the U.S. Department of Justice, an independent review commissioned by the governor, and an internal review by the agency. 

Representatives of the police union have said that 27 of the 130 troopers under review had since been exonerated of wrongdoing. They also have said that the falsified ticket scandal had already resulted in at least one threat against the lives of state police troopers. 

Lawyers for the state and the media outlets, which include the Mirror and The Day of New London, described the law as clearly on the side of the defendants. Deputy Associate Attorney General Terrence O’Neil said the state had filed a short brief in the case because there was not that much to say on the matter.

“The statutes say what they say, right?” O’Neil said. “They give primary jurisdiction to the Freedom of Information Commissioner — and really exclusive jurisdiction to litigate these issues. I don’t think that Attorney Ment’s parade of horribles and concerns, while well-taken and I’m not questioning his good faith belief in them, creates subject matter jurisdiction.”

The judge did not indicate Tuesday what decision she would ultimately make in the case. However, she did question Munn when he urged her to let the FOI Commission to adjudicate the matter. 

“The Freedom of Information Act presumes that all public records are disclosable except for narrow exceptions, correct?” Shah said. “The only way it would come to the commission is if the actual record that’s being sought is denied?”

Munn, the commission’s attorney, agreed.

“So this is the reverse situation, correct?” the judge said. 

Munn said it was not yet clear how DESPP would handle the request. He asked that she let the process play out. 

“If this ends up being a case where the legislature did not give a third party the opportunity [to object to the release of information], that’s the legislature’s prerogative,” he said.