Judicial Openness

The case of Valvo v. Freedom of Information Commission was argued in the Supreme Court on September 24, 2009. The following is a case summary:

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) mandates the disclosure of public records kept by a public agency and defines a public agency to include “any judicial office . . . but only with respect to its . . . administrative functions.”  In 2007, the plaintiffs asked the state judicial branch for copies of the docket sheets for all “Level 2” cases – cases in which the files were ordered sealed.  They were denied those records, and both the Freedom of Information Commission (FOIC) and the Superior Court determined that, in light of the decision in Clerk of the Superior Court v. Freedom of Information Commission, 278 Conn. 28 (2006) (Clerk v. FOIC), they could not afford the plaintiffs any relief.  In Clerk v. FOIC, a divided Supreme Court ruled that the judicial branch did not have to disclose records relating to the tracking, scheduling and docketing of pending cases maintained within its computer system.  The court held that only records of the judicial branch’s “administrative functions” are subject to disclosure under the FOIA, and that the branch’s administrative functions consist of activities relating to its budget, personnel, facilities and physical operations.  The Supreme Court ruled that, as the computer records at issue were not administrative records but rather records created in the course of carrying out the courts’ adjudicatory function, they were exempt from disclosure under the FOIA.  With this appeal from a trial court judgment dismissing their appeal from the FOIC, the plaintiffs ask that the Supreme Court overrule Clerk v. FOIC.  The plaintiffs claim that the decision failed to heed earlier Supreme Court precedent establishing that some records generated in the adjudicative process are nonetheless deemed “administrative” insofar as they relate only to the courts’ “internal institutional machinery.”  They ask that, applying that standard, the Supreme Court now hold that docket sheets constitute records of the courts’ “administrative functions” that are subject to the FOIA.  The plaintiffs also contend that Clerk v. FOIC improperly relied on New York law in interpreting Connecticut’s FOIA and wrongly concluded that the legislature, in limiting the application of the FOIA to the courts’ administrative functions, intended to codify the principle that the courts should have control over court records.  Finally, the plaintiffs assert that Clerk v. FOIC should be overruled because it has precipitated an unseemly and unresolved constitutional conflict between the judicial and legislative branches of government.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Valvo v. FOI Commission, issued on January 19, 2010, can be found at The Connecticut Judicial Branch’s website.

The Hartford Business Journal’s January 25, 2010 editorial on the Supreme Court’s decision in Valvo v. FOI Commission can be found here.

The Connecticut Law Tribune’s Article on the Supreme Court’s decision in Valvo v. FOI Commission can be found here.

The briefs in this case can be found at Connecticut Supreme Court Briefs Online.