Lincoln County News | Newcastle, ME
Tuesday, June 28, 2016 Serving Maine and Lincoln County for over a century. Volume 141 Issue 25


home : letters : letters to the editor June 28, 2016

12/18/2013 2:00:00 PM

The Lincoln County News is currently engaged in a polite, but pointed, standoff with Two Bridges Regional Jail officials regarding our request for a probable cause statement related to a recent arrest.

The probable cause statement, typically an affidavit, usually winds up in the court file where, unless the court seals the file for some reason, all agree it is a public document. As best we could determine, the jail held the only copy for weeks after the arrest, and more than a month out, this document has not made its way into the court file yet.

On the advice of their attorney, jail officials, represented by Correctional Administrator Col. Mark Westrum, are refusing to release the document.

Our attorneys have advised us we are correct in our belief the document is absolutely a public record and the jail has no basis for refusing to release it.

Based on our understanding of the law, and supported by legal advice, we strongly feel the administration of the Two Bridges Regional Jail is in violation of Maine's Freedom of Access Act.

Essentially, this is where the idealism of the public's right to know meets the pragmatism of stone cold reality. If we are going to insist on exercising rights guaranteed in our state and federal constitutions, we need to spend money.

Frankly, this is where most media companies and certainly most private citizens stop insisting on their rights, which is one of the reasons the first official response to any request for records is often "no."

It just easier for an agency to deny and make Joe or Jane Public shoulder the burden of proving public access is in order.

This is a real problem because rights don't stop and they shouldn't cost anything. They are a birthright of American citizens, created, bought, and paid for with the blood of the patriots who have served this great nation.

Any citizen has the right, at any time, for any reason, to ask any government agency for whatever information and, barring certain specific restrictions, he or she should have it.

If it's paid for by tax dollars it belongs to the public whether it's a stapler on a police department desk or stealth bomber.

By itself, the specific document we seek is of relatively little importance, and the specific arrest matters even less, but the principle and broader implications here are fundamental.

There are gray areas in some of the language of the law, but the language also explicitly and unambiguously states the intent of the law is to be interpreted as broadly as possible in favor of the public's right to know.

Indeed, the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine held in Moffett v. City of Portland "a corollary to such liberal construction of the [Freedom of Access] Act is necessarily a strict construction of any exceptions to the required public disclosure."

Here's the problem: right now, all we know is a citizen has been arrested and all we have is the arresting agency's word that citizen did something worthy of being arrested for.

Taking this argument out to its extreme, who is to say the citizen did anything worth getting arrested for at all? Who would know if the citizen's right against unreasonable seizure has been violated?

If all it takes to put a citizen in jail is the unquestioned action of a government agency, all that separates one citizen in jail from another citizen at liberty is some official's whim.

Advanced Search

Contact Us
Email Subscription
Local Online


Lincoln County News
PH: 207-563-3171 | Fax: 207-563-3127
Mailing Address: PO Box 36, Damariscotta, ME 04543 | Plant Location: 116 Mills Rd., Newcastle, ME
copyright 2016 The Lincoln County News

Software © 1998-2016 1up! Software, All Rights Reserved