Information Seeking Is A Circuitous Process When Lawyers Involved

Any time lawyers get involved in something everything gets involved.

For years–rather than the Communications Department, for example–the City Attorney’s Office has been trusted with processing freedom of information requests from an assortment of outlets: the public, news media, agenda seekers, political operatives.

Lawyers are generally glass-half-empty animals. It’s always what can go wrong versus what can go right if the information is released.

In their zeal to protect they sometimes strip down the veracity of their own client.

The Ganim administration got caught with its pants down when Hearst Connecticut Media unleashed this enterprise story that unpacked a backlog of requests prey to legal machinations.

Mayor Joe Ganim promised a cure, allowing department heads, rather than lawyers, to handle requests. It has gotten better but the residual messiness of transition remains.

The latest Hearst Connecticut story includes the debate over legal redaction in a criminal matter that involves witnesses.

The latest from Jacqueline Rabe Thomas:

Despite promises to improve transparency and compliance with Connecticut’s public records law, the City of Bridgeport once again attempted to flout the rules this month, sparking questions about if the city is moving too slowly to reform.

Frustration boiled over at a recent public meeting when a Bridgeport attorney told the state’s Freedom of Information Commission (FOIC), which enforces the public records law, that the city was planning to openly defy an order the commission was considering that day.

That last-minute declaration left commission members in a no-win scenario: Order Bridgeport to release to a man in prison for murder documents that include information about witnesses who helped put him behind bars, or let Bridgeport get away with breaking open records laws again.

Full story here.



  1. Lennie,
    I have been on the lookout for years, for the one place in Bridgeport governance to call upon, as a source of City information. Perhaps that would be what you called “the Communications Department” above? Just went to the City web site (often under redevelopment I have discovered over the years), and discovered that there is no listed Communications Department. Surprised? No number to call, info that may be accessed, etc.
    Department leaders have historically appointed their own departmental communications reps, but I don’t think you were addressing that changing group whether representing the City, the Mayor, the public safety duties or anything else.
    I have viewed the FOI practices of the City for sometime and find them not to be reliable or what is often called customer friendly. Having the “castle defenders” who sit in the City Attorney office depended upon to see to the release of documents and records which they may need to defend the City at some future time, puts them in a very difficult position. They are conflicted perhaps as they review files and redact, or perhaps just defer action which may be how and why 2,000 requests were related as outstanding recently.
    What do other communities do that may make a difference? Does Mayor Ganim’s legal training plus total years in municipal administration provide him a fair and ready answer? It would be a good time for action rather than photo op statements, don’t you think? Time will tell.

  2. But there is a Communications Director, Tiadora Josef, a professional who may be able to answer the FOI question. Sure to be called at 203- 576-7201 on Monday to discover details of the transformation, if she has them. A case of potential “time will tell”.

  3. JML I was communications director for two mayors during times news outlets and associated staffs much larger than today. I processed most of the requests for public information be it news agencies or John Q. Citizen. My attitude was, and still is, get it out the door, unless something ran dramatically counter to common sense. Most requests cover common sense.

  4. Lennie,
    Thanks for your info. Sheds some light on City Attorney Offices who have been designated responsible, but have failed to deal timely or reasonably, and have allowed a large backlog to build.
    Mayor Ganim should wish to eliminate grounds for administrative failures, in my opinion. Specifically, do you know how he is handling this problem? Is it something for his Communication Director to deal with, or is there a necessary role/timetable to continue the City Attorney Office as provider? Time will tell.


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