Nassau officials argued that providing the police phone directory would...

Nassau officials argued that providing the police phone directory would raise privacy concerns, although the book contained no personal information. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

A judge held Nassau County and its police force in contempt earlier this month for ignoring an order by an appeals court panel to turn over the department’s phone directory to a reporter who had filed a Freedom of Information Law request for it in 2020.

Reporter Charles Lane, now with WNYC, filed suit after police officials failed to provide the directory, according to court documents. Nassau officials argued that providing the directory would raise privacy concerns, although the book contained only work titles, phone numbers and email addresses and no personal information.

Nassau Supreme Court Judge Christopher G. Quinn ruled for the county and the department, but an appeals court overturned Quinn’s decision in June 2021 and ordered police to provide Lane with a directory.

The department has still not turned over the directory, Nassau Supreme Court Judge Dawn Jimenez said in her May 16 ruling, holding the county and department in contempt of court “based upon their failure to comply with the Appellate Division’s decision and order.”

The department has 30 days from May 17 to provide Lane with the directory.

“There is a culture in law enforcement that they don’t want to release anything,” said attorney Joseph Aron, one of the lawyers representing Lane. “They look at it as a slippery slope.”

Aron said law enforcement officials ignore FOIL requests to discourage journalists and residents from seeking documents or keeping close tabs on police.

“For us, it’s about a bigger picture. If you can get away with withholding something like this, you can get away with something more significant,” he said.

Spokesmen for Nassau police and County Executive Bruce Blakeman did not return requests for comment Thursday and Friday. Law enforcement officials in the county often deny requests for records by saying releasing information would violate privacy and jeopardize investigations.

New York State’s freedom of information laws, passed in 1974, provided journalists and the public with the right to access records maintained by public agencies, with certain exceptions, including personal privacy, investigations and collective bargaining.

Jimenez ordered the county to pay all legal expenses associated with Lane’s motion to hold the defendants in contempt. Aron said he and co-counsel Cory Morris have not submitted a bill yet but said the cost to taxpayers will be about $100,000.

“There are strong principles on both sides,” Aron said. “But obviously our principles are backed by the law.”

New York lawmakers repealed a state law in 2020 that long provided blanket security to police personnel files. Despite the repeal, the departments refused to release the documents, claiming that releasing anything but substantiated allegations of wrongdoing that led to punishment would be a violation of officers’ privacy.

Newsday filed lawsuits against Nassau and Suffolk after Long Island’s largest police departments refused to make public most officer misconduct records requested in 2020 under the New York Freedom of Information Law. A state appeals court ordered Nassau to release the documents on Nov. 22 and Suffolk to release the records on Nov. 21. The counties are appealing the orders.

A judge held Nassau County and its police force in contempt earlier this month for ignoring an order by an appeals court panel to turn over the department’s phone directory to a reporter who had filed a Freedom of Information Law request for it in 2020.

Reporter Charles Lane, now with WNYC, filed suit after police officials failed to provide the directory, according to court documents. Nassau officials argued that providing the directory would raise privacy concerns, although the book contained only work titles, phone numbers and email addresses and no personal information.

Nassau Supreme Court Judge Christopher G. Quinn ruled for the county and the department, but an appeals court overturned Quinn’s decision in June 2021 and ordered police to provide Lane with a directory.

The department has still not turned over the directory, Nassau Supreme Court Judge Dawn Jimenez said in her May 16 ruling, holding the county and department in contempt of court “based upon their failure to comply with the Appellate Division’s decision and order.”

The department has 30 days from May 17 to provide Lane with the directory.

“There is a culture in law enforcement that they don’t want to release anything,” said attorney Joseph Aron, one of the lawyers representing Lane. “They look at it as a slippery slope.”

Aron said law enforcement officials ignore FOIL requests to discourage journalists and residents from seeking documents or keeping close tabs on police.

“For us, it’s about a bigger picture. If you can get away with withholding something like this, you can get away with something more significant,” he said.

Spokesmen for Nassau police and County Executive Bruce Blakeman did not return requests for comment Thursday and Friday. Law enforcement officials in the county often deny requests for records by saying releasing information would violate privacy and jeopardize investigations.

New York State’s freedom of information laws, passed in 1974, provided journalists and the public with the right to access records maintained by public agencies, with certain exceptions, including personal privacy, investigations and collective bargaining.

Jimenez ordered the county to pay all legal expenses associated with Lane’s motion to hold the defendants in contempt. Aron said he and co-counsel Cory Morris have not submitted a bill yet but said the cost to taxpayers will be about $100,000.

“There are strong principles on both sides,” Aron said. “But obviously our principles are backed by the law.”

New York lawmakers repealed a state law in 2020 that long provided blanket security to police personnel files. Despite the repeal, the departments refused to release the documents, claiming that releasing anything but substantiated allegations of wrongdoing that led to punishment would be a violation of officers’ privacy.

Newsday filed lawsuits against Nassau and Suffolk after Long Island’s largest police departments refused to make public most officer misconduct records requested in 2020 under the New York Freedom of Information Law. A state appeals court ordered Nassau to release the documents on Nov. 22 and Suffolk to release the records on Nov. 21. The counties are appealing the orders.

Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland. The conversation continues on newsday.com/nextli where we invite Long Islanders to share their experiences on this looming crisis of changing weather patterns, flooding, shoreline protection, home buyouts and more to find potential solutions for the region’s future.

Paying the Price: Long Island's stormy future Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland.

Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland. The conversation continues on newsday.com/nextli where we invite Long Islanders to share their experiences on this looming crisis of changing weather patterns, flooding, shoreline protection, home buyouts and more to find potential solutions for the region’s future.

Paying the Price: Long Island's stormy future Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland.

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