The Portland Press Herald won an important freedom-of-information case last November. On a 7-0 vote, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court overturned a lower court’s ruling and ordered that the transcripts of 911 calls in a murder case be released.
“It’s a strong endorsement of the public’s right to know and the value of public records,” Press Herald lawyer Sigmund Schutz said in an article for the New England First Amendment Coalition written by the paper’s executive editor, Cliff Schechtman. “We all want law enforcement to be able to catch bad guys. I don’t think this harms their ability to do that. I think it says you need a level of transparency in how you do that.”
This spring, though, a Republican state senator from Whiting, retired state trooper David Burns, filed legislation making it a crime to release 911 calls related to a pending criminal case. Burns acted on behalf of the Maine Department of Public Safety, whose lawyer, Christopher Parr, earns the Muzzle for defending the censorious bill in testimony before the legislature’s Judiciary Committee. The bill, Parr said, would prevent the “premature public disclosure” of the transcripts — notwithstanding the fact that 911 calls are public records in most states.
Fortunately, the bill was killed in the closing days of the legislative session.