What happens when the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission violates its own rules? In May retired Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez filed an FOI complaint charging that a meeting by the City Council’s Budget & Appropriations Committee triggered a series of state violations stemming from an improperly noticed executive session for “pending litigation” that also “established a quorum of the entire City Council of the City of Bridgeport without adequate notice in violation of the FOIA.” Lopez asserts the violations were at the direction of lawyers with the City Attorney’s Office. Lo and behold the state postponed a June 28 hearing on the matter at the request of the city that Lopez declares undercuts FOI’s own rules.
Lopez has shared the response she sent to FOI requesting another hearing officer as a result of an “ex parte” communication, something granted outside the presence of the opposing party. “When a Commission acts in violation of its own regulations, at the request of the City of Bridgeport, any trust or confidence that the public may have in the Commission is undercut by these actions.”
That on or about June 6, 2018, the Complainant received a Notice of Hearing and Order to Show Cause, signed by Colleen M. Murphy, Executive Director of the FOIC, stating that a hearing had been scheduled on the complaint for June 28, 2018;
That the Notice also stated that Attorney Valicia D. Harmon was designated as the Hearing Officer;
That the Notice stated that the “hearing is governed by the regulations of the Freedom of Information Commission and will be conducted as a contested case under Chapter 54 of the Connecticut General Statutes;”
That on June 20, 2018, the Complainant received a phone call from “Linda” a staff member of the FOIC;
That Linda informed the Complainant that the hearing scheduled for June 28, 2018, had been postponed pursuant to a request filed by the Office of the City Attorney;
Section 1-21j-34(a)-(b) of the Regulations of the Freedom of Information Commission address the matter of Continuances or Postponements of hearings;
Section (b) states that “After the order and notice of hearing … have been issued, no request for continuance or postponement of hearing shall be granted or permitted unless such request: (1) is in writing signed by each party to the contested case, or by each such party’s attorney, agent or other duly authorized representative; and (2) states as the reason for the continuance or postponement that the parties are in the process of negotiating a settlement or other resolution of the case and that a continuance or postponement of the hearing is necessary to facilitate the successful completion of such settlement or resolution.”
The Complainant represents that she was not informed of the request for a postponement, indeed the first she learned of a continuance was when “Linda” called to advise her the postponement was granted;
The Complainant further represents that the parties are not in the process of negotiating a settlement or other resolution of the case, indeed the complainant has not received any communication of any type from the Office of the City Attorney seeking to discuss this matter.
The Complainant states that the fact that continuances can be heard and granted ex parte by FOIC Hearing Officers, at the request of the City of Bridgeport, raises serious questions concerning the fairness of the process, and the impartiality of the Hearing Officer and the Commission;
As this complaint sets forth, the City of Bridgeport has a long documented history of flouting the Freedom of Information Act and frustrating the public’s right to know;
When a Commission acts in violation of its own regulations, at the request of the City of Bridgeport, any trust or confidence that the public may have in the Commission is undercut by these actions;
It is important to remember that the Mayor of the City of Bridgeport is a convicted felon, having been found guilty of public corruption on multiple counts;
This is a City Attorney’s Office that serves at his direction;
He is now engaged in a campaign for governor and perhaps does not wish any distraction before the 4th of July holiday;
Given this ex parte accommodation of the City of Bridgeport, I believe this matter should be re-assigned to another hearing officer.