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Judge orders Oyster Bay to release documents to Newsday

Oyster Bay Town Hall is shown in this

Oyster Bay Town Hall is shown in this photo taken on Sunday, March 27, 2016. Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

A New York State judge on Friday ordered the Town of Oyster Bay to provide documents to Newsday in a ruling on Freedom of Information Law and Open Meeting Law requests.

State Supreme Court Judge Leonard Steinman in Mineola ruled that Oyster Bay must turn over documents in seven FOIL requests and must certify that it has completely fulfilled two requests. The judge ordered a hearing on two FOIL and three Open Meetings Law requests that he did not rule on.

“It is in the general public’s significant interest that Newsday be permitted to conduct the news investigation it is attempting to pursue by examining public documents (or, at least, documents that should have been and now will be public),” Steinman wrote.

Newsday alleged that Oyster Bay had violated FOIL and the Open Meetings Law when it refused to make documents available or certify that all documents had been provided in response to more than a dozen Newsday requests from December 2014 through February 2016.

Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, said it was an important decision.

“Most important was the fact that the judge was serious about the obligation of the government agency to meet the burden of defending secrecy,” Freeman said.

Thomas Sabellico, Oyster Bay special counsel, said an appeal was likely, but not before the decision had been fully reviewed and the parties meet for a conference on Thursday.

The requests covered financial, planning and contractual records for the town’s concessions agreements with indicted restaurateur Harendra Singh; other town contracts; financial disclosures of former Planning and Development Commissioner Frederick Ippolito; access to Zoning Board of Appeals meeting minutes; building permits; a town report on complaints made by Massapequa resident Robert Ripp; backup material for town board meetings; and town financial records.

Steinman awarded Newsday legal fees in an amount to be determined following the hearing.

Oyster Bay argued in court filings that many documents could be withheld because of ongoing investigations or potential litigation.

Steinman, however, ruled that this argument was without merit, pointing out that FOIL’s law enforcement exemption covers documents compiled specifically for investigations, not those that are produced in the normal course of business that may later become part of an investigation.

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