Advocates hail challenge to Baker on public records
Governor insists court decision exempts his office from law
TWO ADVOCATES for greater government transparency are applauding the state supervisor of public records for questioning Gov. Charlie Baker’s assertion that his office is not subject to the Public Records Law.
Rebecca Murray, the public records supervisor, recently balked at Baker’s refusal to cough up records and referred the matter to Attorney General Maura Healey for action. Baker, like his predecessors, insisted his office is exempt from the law, citing a 1997 Supreme Judicial Court decision entitled Lambert v. Executive Director of the Judicial Nominating Council.
“It’s great to see the Lambert decision getting a fresh look,” said Gavi Wolfe, the legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, in an email. “To paraphrase The Princess Bride — ‘You keep citing that case. I do not think it means what you think it means.’ Lambert was about a specific set of records that the court found raised unique constitutional issues, but it’s been treated as blanket permission to keep information secret. It seems like a good time to go back and look at the plain meaning of the statute, and for our political leaders to return to first principles. Asking for openness in government shouldn’t be like pulling teeth.”
Pam Wilmot, the executive director of Common Cause of Massachusetts, said she supports more transparency in state government and backs the attorney general taking another look at the 1997 case. But Wilmot isn’t sure how Healey’s review will turn out, noting that Murray’s questioning of Baker’s position represents a break with her predecessors. “It’s a big departure from previous practice in the office,” she said.
Murray reports to Secretary of State William Galvin. Galvin’s spokesman said last week that the secretary had nothing to do with Murray’s decision. Murray declined comment on Wednesday, saying any interview would have to be cleared with Galvin’s office. Officials in that office did not return phone calls.