Baker public records stance referred to Healey

Baker public records stance referred to Healey

Galvin’s office urges AG to compel governor’s compliance

THE STATE’S SUPERVISOR OF PUBLIC RECORDS said Gov. Charlie Baker failed to comply with an administrative order to produce documents and referred the matter to Attorney General Maura Healey for action.

The referral to Healey’s office marks a new direction for the public records office, which reports to Secretary of State William Galvin. Baker and his Democratic and Republican predecessors have repeatedly held that a 1997 decision by the Supreme Judicial Court exempts the governor’s office from compliance with the Public Records Law. Governors often supply documents in response to public records requests, but each time they insist they are doing so voluntarily. The state’s supervisor of public records has largely upheld that interpretation of the law in the past.

But Rebecca S. Murray, who took over as the state supervisor of public records in January, appeared to stake out a different position in a letter to Healey’s office on Friday. The letter focused on a Boston Globe request to Baker’s office seeking records related to calls from constituents. When Baker’s office refused to supply the information, the Globe appealed to Murray, who ordered the governor to provide “the requested records or a response explaining with specificity how these requested records are not subject to disclosure.”

Cathy M. Judd-Stein, the governor’s deputy chief legal counsel, responded to Murray on April 10, saying Baker’s office would not be supplying the information to the Globe. Judd-Stein said the governor’s office is not subject to the Public Records Law pursuant to the 1997 court decision Lambert v. Executive Director of the Judicial Nominating Council.

“By extension, and as recognized by your predecessor, this office is also not subject to any appeal process prescribed by the Public Records Law and the secretary’s regulations,” Judd-Stein wrote. “The office of the governor, however, at this time continues its voluntary practice to consider and respond to public records requests on a case-by-case basis.”

In her letter to Healey on Friday, Murray said Baker’s office had restated, “without further explanation,” that the governor’s office is not subject to the Public Records Law pursuant to the 1997 court decision.

“I find this response does not adequately explicate how all of the requested records relating to constituent calls are exempt from disclosure under the language of the Public Records Law or related case law,” Murray wrote. She also cited a section of state law defining public records “as any record made or received by any officer or employee of any executive office.”

Murray asked Healey to review the matter and “take whatever measures you deem necessary” to ensure the governor’s office complies with the administrative order.

Meet the Author
Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Lambert, the 1997 Supreme Judicial Court decision, focused on whether a personal questionnaire completed by an applicant for judicial appointment was a public record. The court ruled that it was not, since “the governor is not explicitly included” in the definition of who is covered by the Public Records Law. Baker and past governors have interpreted the Lambert decision broadly to exclude the office from the reach of the Public Records Law, but some attorneys say Lambert was a narrow ruling dealing only with letters submitted by judicial appointments. Murray’s letter to Healey suggests she feels Baker is interpreting the decision too broadly.

A spokesman for Baker could not be immediately reached for comment. Healey’s office declined comment on the letter.

  • Mhmjjj2012

    According to the Boston Globe’s article, Massachusetts is the only state where the governor’s office, legislature, and judiciary are exempt from the Public Records Law. How is that not a problem? That’s how we ended up with high ranking legislators taking a stroll on the State House lawn with the Governor while hatching a scheme to benefit a developer with two prime Beacon Hill parking spaces for a pittance.

    • Vickers

      This state is an embarrassment in so many ways. The legislature is crooked and so partisan liberal it’s not even funny. The AG of this state is a liberal ideologue who is on a mission to champion liberal agenda bullet points, here and around the country, rather than do her job of enforcing (not writing) the law in the Commonwealth. Baker is an embarrassment as well. He is no Republican and has shown himself to be as bad as all the rest of the cronies on the Hill, refusing to even try to temper or speak out against any of the BS going on. The state court system is a joke as it rubber stamps liberal ideals and ignores laws/ upper court rulings that disagree with liberal interpretations and also allow all these cronies to continue to do what they do. The majority of the people of the Commonwealth don’t care what goes on as long as liberal Democrats keep getting elected and the Globe tells them that everything is fine, nothing to see here.

  • Mhmjjj2012

    Speaking of the judicial branch, the other day Howie Carr had a column in the Boston Herald asserting judges work “maybe – maybe – 35 weeks” a year. How about shining some light on that?

  • Mhmjjj2012

    Speaking of the legislative branch, now that the per diem can no longer be used to determine how many days a year legislators actually show up on Beacon Hill, how can the public find out the work schedule of members of the state legislature? And what about which members show up for committee hearings? A year or so ago a newspaper noted maybe one or two legislators attend public hearings on bills. Imagine one or two take the time to listen to the public’s concerns on legislation. How is that not a scandal?

  • Mhmjjj2012

    Shouldn’t the personal questionnaire completed by an applicant for a judicial appointment be a public record? Otherwise how can the public have meaningful participation in the process?

  • QuincyQuarry.com

    For the record, I am both for transparency and surely have given rise to the very thick file at the AG’s Public Records office over successful records requests ordered fulfilled by the City of Quincy, but the Supreme Judicial Court has spoken as regards the privacy of the Governor’s files.

    As such, now asking for the Governor’s Office to provide a further explanation is arguably presumptuous to both ask in general as well as to expect the Corner Office to expound further on what the SJC has decided.

    And to those not happy with the SJC’s ruling on the applicable underlying Massachusetts General Law, they are free to lobby for legislative reform to require the Governor – as well as the state legislature – to open up their files to public scrutiny.

    Bon chance, however.