SJC: ATTORNEY GENERAL v. DISTRICT ATTORNEY FOR PLYMOUTH DISTRICT

Keywords:  Public Records. Criminal Offender Record Information. District Attorney

[Excerpt] – “A reporter for Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC (Globe), made a public records request pursuant to G. L. c. 66, § 10 (public records law) to each of the offices of the Commonwealth’s eleven district attorneys and to the office of the Attorney General for information stored in an internal electronic case database maintained by each of these offices (database).  Specifically, the Globe sought data tables containing the following twenty-three categories of information for each criminal case tracked by the district attorneys and the Attorney General in their databases:

“[1] Case ID Number . . . ; [2] Offense Date; [3] Case filing Date; [4] Docket number; [5] Court name where the case was handled; [6] Criminal count number; [7] Charge/crime Code . . . ; [8] Charge/crime Description . . . ; [9] Charge/crime Type . . . ; [10] Department that filed the charge; [11] Way charge was initiated (Ex:  grand jury indictment, filed by police . . . etc.); [12] Defendant ID Num (Internal tracking number used by DA’s office to identify defendant); [13] Defendant Race/Ethnicity; [14] Defendant Gender; [15] Judge’s Name who handled disposition; [16] Disposition Date; [17] Disposition Code; [18] Disposition Description; [19] Disposition Type; [20] Disposition/sentence[] recommended by prosecutor for each charge; [21] Sentence Type; [22] Sentence Description; [23] Case status.”

“All of the offices complied with the request except for those of the district attorneys for the Plymouth District, the Middle District, and the Cape and Islands District (the district attorneys).  The Globe appealed to the supervisor of records (supervisor) to determine whether the requested information sought from the databases are public records that must be disclosed under the public records law.  The supervisor determined that the information constitutes public records and ordered the district attorneys to produce the requested data.  The district attorneys declined to do so, and the supervisor referred the matter to the Attorney General, who commenced an action seeking a declaration that the requested data are public records.  A Superior Court judge allowed the Attorney General’s motion for summary judgment and entered a judgment declaring that the Globe’s request seeks public records that must be disclosed.  We granted the district attorneys’ motion for direct appellate review.

“On appeal, the district attorneys argue that we should reverse the declaratory judgment for two reasons:  first, that under G. L. c. 4, § 7, Twenty-sixth (a), these records are “specifically or by necessary implication exempted from disclosure” under the Criminal Offender Record Information Act, G. L. c. 6, §§ 167-178B (the CORI act); and second, that the Globe’s request requires them not merely to disclose existing records but to create a computer program to extract the data and create a new report, which exceeds what is required under the public records law.

“We conclude that the data sought by the Globe from the district attorneys would be “specifically or by necessary implication exempted from disclosure” under the CORI act if the individuals whose cases were tracked by this data could be directly or indirectly identified, because a criminal history of these individuals could then be compiled from this data that may be more extensive than what members of the public are permitted to obtain under the CORI act.  We also conclude that if the court case docket number (docket number) for each case were segregated and redacted from the remaining categories of information, these individuals could not be directly or indirectly identified from this data.  We also conclude that a request such as this, which requires the extraction of categories of information from an existing database, does not impose burdens on public record holders that exceed what is required under the public records law.  We therefore affirm the judgment only in part and declare that the district attorneys must disclose to the Globe twenty-two of the twenty-three categories of information requested, excising from the disclosure the docket number for each case requested.

Statutory background.  This case requires us to attempt to harmonize the language and legislative purpose of two statutes:  the public records law, G. L. c. 66, § 10, and the CORI act, G. L. c. 6, §§ 167-178B.”

Click here for the full text of the SJC’s decision.

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