Union Leader v. Town of Chester, Doc. No. 218-2006-E-400 (Rockingham Super. Ct., August 31, 2006) (Morrill, J.)

Pages: 1 2




Union Leader Corporation


Town of Chester

Docket no. 06-E-400


This is a petition pursuant to R.S.A. chapter 91-A, Right to Know Law. At June 29, 2006, meeting of the Chester Selectmen, the board wished to discuss personnel or salary matters with its Chief of Police, Al Wagner. When the chairman of the board moved to go into a non-public session, Chief Wagner voiced his concern about going into a private session where he didn't know what the purpose was. The chairman ruled that the board, as Chief Wagner's employer, had the right to decide whether the meeting would be open or non-public. He went on to assure Chief Wagner that after the private session he could decide whether he wanted to make the proceedings public or confidential. At the conclusion of the session, Chief Wagner asked that the proceedings be kept private, and the board complied.

Subsequently, the Union Leader filed this petition. After filing this petition, the Union Leader's attorney contacted Chief Wagner, who stated that he was now indifferent about the release of the minutes of the private session. She did not share this information with the Board's attorney. At the hearing Chief Wagner reiterated his position, and I ordered the sealed minutes released.

The Union Leader now moves for attorney's fees, claiming that if the Board had not misstated the law to Chief Wagner on June 29 or, alternatively, after receiving notice of this petition, asked Chief Wagner if his position had changed, this petition and hearing would not have been necessary. RSA 91-A:8, I.

The selectmen should have known on June 29 that it was Chief Wagner's right to determine whether the portion of the meeting regarding him would be private or open to the public. RSA 91-A:3, II(a) and (c). By misstating the law the selectmen set in motion the events, which led to this proceeding. Petitioner is awarded its reasonable attorney's fees up until and through its interview of Chief Wagner. Once petitioner learned that Chief Wagner was indifferent to the release of the minutes, it should have transmitted that information to respondent so that this matter could have been informally resolved.

[2] August 31, 2006    /s/   

Robert E.K. Morrill

Presiding Justice