NY Coalition For Open Government Wins Lawsuit Against Niagara County

Please click the link below to subscribe to a FREE PDF version of each print edition of the Niagara Reporter

http://eepurl.com/dnsYM9

 

 

By: Staff Reporter

On September 10, 2020, after hearing oral arguments, Niagara County Supreme Court Justice Frank Caruso ruled in favor of the New York Coalition For Open Government. Justice Caruso decided as follows:

  • Denied Niagara County’s request to dismiss the case;
  • Ordered Niagara County to provide the financial disclosure forms of Niagara County Legislator’s to the New York Coalition For Open Government;
  • Ruled that the local law passed by the Niagara County Legislature in 1996, making their disclosure forms secret from the public, is illegal in that it violates the New York State Freedom of Information Law;
  • Reserved decision on whether Niagara County should be required to pay attorney fees to the University at Buffalo Civil Liberties & Transparency Clinic.

Paul Wolf, President of the New York Coalition For Open Government stated, “For twenty-three years Niagara County, in violation of the Freedom of Information Law, withheld information from the public. No other County in New York State has a local law which prevents the public from seeing financial information regarding their elected officials. This never should have required a lawsuit but Niagara County officials stubbornly refused to correct their mistake.”

Michael F. Higgins, attorney for the University at Buffalo Civil Rights and Transparency Clinic stated: “This decision vindicates the right of the public and press to serve as watchdogs and confirm that government officials are acting in the public interest free from financial conflicts. We look forward to reviewing the documents that were withheld for far too long.”

Background For the Lawsuit

In 1996, the Niagara County Legislature adopted a Local Law making the Annual Financial Disclosure Statements filed by government officials secret from the public. No other County in New York State has such a law.

Due to pressure from the New York Coalition for Open Government, in 2019, the Niagara County Legislature amended their Local Law by making disclosure forms filed in 2019 and thereafter subject to FOIL. Financial Disclosure Statements filed before 2019 under the amended law remain secret from the public.

On August 15, 2019, the New York Coalition for Open Government filed a FOIL request seeking copies of the Annual Financial Disclosure Statements filed by Niagara County Legislators from 2013 to 2019. The FOIL request for the Disclosure Statements filed from 2013 to 2018 was denied.

The University at Buffalo Law School Civil Rights and Transparency Clinic filed a lawsuit in February on behalf of the New York Coalition for Open Government in Niagara County Supreme Court. The lawsuit seeks to overturn Niagara County’s Local Law keeping Disclosure Statements secret from the public on the basis that the local law violates New York State’s Freedom of Information Law.

 


Leave a Reply

FOLLOW US ON FACEBOOK

https://www.facebook.com/NiagaraReporter/
 
Scroll Up.wpzoom (color:black;}