The ProJo’s Kathy Gregg, on twitter, correctly called this ruling stunning.
The state Supreme Court ruled Monday that The Providence Journal is not entitled to records of the state police investigation into a 2012 graduation party hosted by then-Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s son that left an underage girl hospitalized and the governor’s teenage son accused of violating the state social-host law.
The high court agreed: “When the release of sensitive personal information is at stake and the alleged public interest is rooted in government wrongdoing, we do not deal in potentialities — rather, the seeker of information must provide some evidence that government negligence or impropriety was afoot. Because the Journal failed to provide any such evidence, the public interest can, at best, be characterized merely as an uncorroborated possibility of governmental negligence or impropriety.”
Obviously a standard that borders on impossible. When it comes to the public’s access of the vast majority of public records, officials need to be presumed “guilty” until the records exculpate them (if they do). With this misguided ruling, the state Supreme Court, however inadvertently and unintentionally, will exacerbate the public’s mistrust of its officials at a time when exactly the opposite is needed.