AG Finds Town Violated APRA Law

by | Jan 9, 2019

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

The state Attorney General’s office ruled against the town in two of four APRA (Access to Public Records) complaints filed by David Szerlag, a lawyer representing three firefighters in lawsuits against the town.

The ruling, filed Dec. 21, reflects actions taken under the previous Town Council by former Town Manager Gayle Corrigan and former Town Solicitor David D’Agostino. (Find the ruling here.)

David Szerlag, a lawyer representing three firefighters who are suing the town after their health information was left in public view in November 2017.

Szerlag’s APRA complaints involved attempts to get information about the town’s policies and procedures with regard to privacy for health information. Szerlag asked for “copies of any written statements provided to town employees as to the necessity of maintaining the security and confidentiality of confidential health care information as required by RIGL § 5-37-3.” The town initially responded that the information was provided, but then later said “there are no documents responsive to the request.”

The AG’s office found the town’s initial response violated the APRA, but that there did not appear to be evidence of a “willful and knowing, or reckless, violation at this time.”

Szerlag also filed a complaint about the town’s redaction of signatures on copies of municipal checks he had requested. The AG did not find a violation per se but did instruct the town to reveal the names of the individuals whose signatures were redacted “within 10 business days of this finding.”

Szerlag said the town asked the AG’s office for an extension and he had no objection. The new deadline is Feb. 1.

The AG’s office also found the town in violation of the APRA because it demanded an arbitrary deposit for APRA work it was doing. According to the AG’s report, town officials admitted the deposit was “unconnected to any estimate.”

The report continues: “This conduct is particularly unreasonable on these facts, where the ultimate time for search and retrieval was relatively minimal (only two and one-half hours). For these reasons, we find that the Town violated the APRA by requiring a ‘deposit’ that was not related to the estimated time for search, retrieval, and/or copying.”

Town Council President Mark Schwager said the new council was still reviewing all the legal issues facing the town, including the AG’s response and the lawsuit filed by Szerlag on behalf of the firefighters. 

Between June and August 2017, the town was found to have violated the Open Meetings Act seven times.

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