Shots fired in public records dispute between AG Healey and gun rights group
By Evan Lips | December 9, 2016, 17:09 EDT
BOSTON — The state’s leading 2nd Amendment rights organization appears to be gunning for another battle with Attorney General Maura Healey, this time over what the group claims has been Healey’s disregard for a Freedom of Information Act request it submitted to her office in August that has gone unanswered.
“Since AG Healey took office all we have heard about is transparency — so what is she hiding?” Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners Action League of Massachusetts, said in a prepared statement.
The feud between Healey and Wallace’s organization stems from a directive the attorney general issued in July, when she released an interpretive ruling of laws intended to halt what she claims have been the illegal sale of “copycat” assault weapons. GOAL in August filed a FOIA request that seeks to force Healey’s office to make public documents and other records that the organization believes will show how the attorney general arrived at her decision to issue the new gun directive.
GOAL’s information request appeared to have piggy-backed onto a similar request made by Holden resident David Reinhart. It was Reinhart who first filed an information request aimed at determining how Healey arrived at her ruling.
In late September, Healey’s office informed Reinhart that they would not be releasing the requested information. A spokesperson at the time clarified to a New Boston Post reporter that Reinhart did not cite the Freedom of Information Act when he submitted his request, but noted that the wording of Reinhart’s letter had no impact on Healey’s decision.
Assistant Attorney General Lorraine Tarrow, in her letter to Reinhart, claimed that the records are not public “because our deliberative processes regarding the (enforcement) notice are ongoing and incomplete, tied to our open investigations, and include legal opinions relevant to actual and threatened litigation.”
Reinhart had argued that since Healey had already issued the directive in July, the deliberative process had ended, meaning there was no need for redactions.
Wallace, however, stressed in his statement that Healey’s office has missed the deadline stipulated under public records laws to either comply or deny GOAL’s request. He added that GOAL is working with its legal team to determine its next course of action.
Under state law, public agencies must respond to public records requests within 10 days of receipt.
“No one is above the law — not even the attorney general,” Wallace added.
According to a timeline of important dates posted to GOAL’s website, the organization issued Healey’s office an additional letter at the end of last month reminding them of the group’s FOIA request.
The timeline notes that Tarrow responded to the letter on Dec. 2.
“We should be able to finalize our response to your request within the next two weeks,” Tarrow apparently wrote.
Coincidentally, the public records dispute between GOAL and attorney general’s office comes at a time when Healey has been praised by the Massachusetts Newspapers Publishers Association for encouraging access to public records.
Earlier this month, the association thanked Healey for suing three different state prosecutors on behalf of the Boston Globe over their refusal to release electronic lists of criminal cases.
“Government accountability and transparency are as important as they’ve ever been,” Healey told a group of newspaper publishers earlier this month, after being showered with praise for issuing the lawsuits. “We need a public that understands and believes in and trusts government…[It] seems to me that one of the ways you get there is by making sure there is accountability and integrity.”
Healey’s statements about transparency apparently irked Wallace, who called them “extremely ironic” and accused Healey’s office of “continuing to operate in the shadows and consistently refusing any requests for transparency.”
Meanwhile, another lawsuit filed against Healey by several in-state gun retailers over her July directive is moving forward.