One of the underlying themes of this blog is that public agencies need to learn how to deal effectively with what I like to call FOI “frequent fliers.” These are the citizens — or entities in the case of organizations and newspapers — who account for the vast majority of Freedom of Information requests (and appeals).
Why do I raise this point today? Because this is the third post in a row about Robin Elliott, an inmate at the Northern Correctional Institution who spends his time in jail filing FOI requests.
Today’s FOIA appeal involves a video recording viewed during a disciplinary hearing involving Mr. Elliot. The Department of Correction denied the request because providing Mr. Elliot could result in a safety risk. The Freedom of Information Commission agreed, holding that the video was exempt from the Freedom of Information Act under Connecticut General Statutes § 1-210(b)(18).
So no harm, no foul, as they say on the playground, right? Not exactly.
Mr. Elliot also requested copies of the weekly disciplinary summary, and the DOC did not search those records. Because of this, the FOIC held that the DOC failed to prove that they conducted a diligent search for all responsive records and therefore failed to prove that they provided all the requested records. The DOC was ordered to take another look and provide the records free of charge.
Although that may not be a “big deal” from the DOC’s perspective, an important lesson can still be learned from this case. When you have a FOI frequent flier, make sure to dot your i’s and cross your t’s. An appeal is probably coming and you need to show that you did everything right.
Read Full Decision in Elliot v. Warden, Doc. No. FIC 2008-733, here.