The New Hampshire Supreme Court unanimously overturned a trial court’s decision on the basis of the state’s Right to Know Law in favor of Keene State College Journalism Professor Marianne Salcetti and her students. The NH Supreme Court reached this decision on Tuesday, June 3, granting a long awaited triumph to Salcetti and her students after a nearly three year battle in the courts against the city of Keene.

“My students and I focused on one goal through this battle,” Salcetti said. “That goal was the public’s right to information. We did not choose this battle, but we had to fight this battle on behalf of the public.”

According to the court opinion, Salcetti taught a journalism class in Fall 2017 at Keene State during which she instructed her students to “file Right-to-Know requests with public entities seeking information on topics of public interest.” Several of these requests were submitted to the City of Keene but five of them were denied in full or in part, court documents reported. Some of the requests involved obtaining numerous documents relating to police complaints or restaurant inspections. Salcetti said she thought the public should be able to see these documents.

“All five Right-to-Know requests concerned basic information that the public should have access to,” Salcetti said.

The Right to Know Law, which the courts interpreted to reach a decision, regulates the public’s access to government documents. According to Title VI Chapter 91-A of the New Hampshire General Court, the purpose of this law is to “ensure both the greatest possible public access to the actions, discussions and records of all public bodies, and their accountability to the people.”

One of these requests from the students concerned obtaining reports and complaints of excessive force used by Keene police officers. “How the police conduct themselves is vital information we need to know, as we are seeing across the country right now,” Salcetti said.

According to court documents, the trial court held a hearing in June 2018, and issued a series of orders in August 2018, December 2018 and January 2019, which had resolved the issues raised by Salcetti and the students primarily in favor of Keene. However, the journalism class went to the NH Supreme Court to seek an appeal and this time the vote was unanimously in their favor.

“I think the supreme court’s unanimous ruling makes all of our efforts on behalf of the public to get the public’s information worth it,” Salcetti said. “I hope journalism students will be inspired and that they learn that journalistic justice does happen.”

 

Hunter Oberst can be contacted at

hoberst@kscequinox.com