By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Better than it has sometimes been in the past, but still a ways to go with some important decisions about its future soon to be made by the state Supreme Court.
That’s how a panel celebrating Sunshine Week summed up the state of the state of New Hampshire’s right-to-know law, RSA 91:a, Tuesday evening at a public forum at Nashua Community College. Sunshine Week celebrates public records laws across the country.
Rick Gagliuso, an attorney with Bernstein Shur in Manchester, spoke about the history of his First Amendment work for news outlets since the 1980s holding government agencies accountable to release public records and hold legal, open meetings.
The heyday for right-to-know awareness was during the 2000s when newspapers could afford to pay attorneys to bring court cases when they were refused public records. Having to defend their actions in court got the attention of government officials, Gagliuso said.
“It seemed to have an educational function as well,” to sensitize them to the importance of following the right-to-know law.
“It let them know that someone was watching, somebody’s paying attention,” Gagliuso said. Agencies, cities and towns began to pay more attention, he said, until newspapers could no longer afford to go to Superior Court or the state Supreme Court, the only recourse in New Hampshire when a request is denied.
“You could almost see them relax,” Gagliuso said of public officials.
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