Christie v. Town of Durham, Doc. No. 219-2000-E-069 (Strafford Super. Ct., April 25, 2000) (Nadeau, J.)


State of New Hampshire

Strafford, SS. Superior Court

Thomas C. Christie


Town of Durham and Ilene Healy, Town Administrator



The plaintiff filed this petition pursuant to RSA chapter 91-A, the Right-to-Know Law, seeking disclosure of billing statements submitted to the Town of Durham by the law firm of Upton, Sanders & Smith. The Town has provided the plaintiff with redacted copies of the billing statements, showing only the dates when services were rendered, the time spent, and the total amount billed. The Town asserts its attorney-client privilege with respect to the remaining information contained in the bills.

The plaintiff acknowledges that there may be some information contained in the billing statements which is subject to the attorney-client privilege. The plaintiff argues, however, that the Town may not assert a blanket privilege over everything contained in the documents; rather, the Town must review the documents and redact only the confidential information.

New Hampshire's Right-to-Know Law (RSA 91-A) entitles every citizen to "inspect all public records . . . except as otherwise prohibited by statute or RSA 91-A:5." RSA 91-A:4. The term "public records" is not defined by statute, see Brent v. [2] Paquette, 132 N.H. 415, 421 (1989); however, it "will generally include any document, book, paper, manuscript, drawing, photograph, map, sound recording, microform or other material . . . made or received pursuant to law or in connection with the transaction of official business." Loughlin, 13 N.H. Practice: Local Government Law, ยง 701.

The Town argues that the billing statements in this case are subject to the attorney-client privilege. There is no doubt that a Town may assert its attorney-client privilege with respect to advice it receives from legal counsel. See Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forest v. Pollution Control Commission, 115 N.H. 192 (1975). This does not mean, however, that all of the information contained in billing statements from legal counsel constitutes confidential information exempt from the requirements of the Right-to-Know Law. Billing statements which merely identify the allocation of funds to particular services rendered by an attorney do not necessarily reveal confidential information such as attorney work product or legal advice.

The public has a strong interest in the allocation and expenditure of public funds. The court must, therefore, balance the benefits of disclosure to the public with the benefits of non-disclosure to the government. See Chambers v. Gregg, 135 N.H. 478, 481 (1992). In so doing, the court recognizes that a public entity seeking to avoid disclosure "bears a heavy burden to shift the balance toward nondisclosure." Union Leader Corp. [3] v. City of Nashua, 141 N.H. 473, 476 (1996).

The court finds that the billing statements at issue in this case constitute public records for purposes of the Right-to-Know Law. Although the attorney-client privilege may exempt disclosure of certain portions of those documents, the Town may not assert a blanket privilege over the billing statements as a whole, as it did with the billing statements from Upton, Sanders & Smith.

The redacted bills from the law firm of Donahue, Tucker & Ciandella, see Pl.'s Ex. A, appropriately detail the type of legal work, the time spent, the date of the work, and the charge for the work. While it is permissible for the Town to redact names of individuals contacted and the precise nature of the legal work, it may not remove all identifying information from the billing records as it did from the Upton, Sanders and Smith records. See Franklin v. Williams, NH/VT Solid Waste Product (Sullivan Cty. Super. Ct. Doc. No. 99-E-007). Rather, the bills provided to the public must include some description of the type of legal work rendered. See id. The failure to do so renders the public's right to know meaningless.

In sum, the court finds that the Town must disclose to the public copies of the billing statements requested by the plaintiff, in a format similar to the redacted billing statements provided as plaintiff's exhibit A.

The plaintiff's request for attorney's fees is DENIED, as the court does not find that "the body, agency or person knew or [4] should have known that the conduct engaged in was a violation of [RSA 91-A]." RSA 91-A:8. Nor does the court finds that any individual "acted in bad faith in refusing . . . to provide a public record . . . ." Id.

Accordingly, the plaintiff's Petition for Injunctive Relief Under RSA 91-A is GRANTED, consistent with the above.


Date: 4/25/00    /s/   

Tina L. Nadeau

Presiding Justice