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Police Documents Sought under Public Records Act Exempt for Irreparable Harm Probability

The Chronicle Publishing Company, dba Worcester Telegram and Gazette (T&G), motioned for a preliminary injunction in 1999 to obtain records regarding internal police reports from Worcester Chief of Police Edward Gardella and the City. The City refused, arguing that the records were exempt, their release would cause irreparable harm, and that T&G couldn't succeed on the merits. The court agreed and denied the motion.

The information requested regarded police conduct and citizen complaints from January of 1997 through August of 1998, approximately 125 closed case files. The City produced 20 redacted files. T&G appealed to the Supervisor of Public Records (supervisor). The supervisor ordered disclosure within ten days. The City provided 92 citizen complaints in 1999 with all pertinent information redacted. T&G moved for a preliminary injunction and argued that they were entitled to unredacted records and to a judgment as a matter of law because the supervisor deemed the records public. The City argued that the documents were exempt because they 1) related to internal personnel rules and practices; 2) contained data related to a specifically named individual, which may constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy; and 3) were investigatory materials that would probably prejudice effective law enforcement.

The court ruled that T&G had failed to establish a reasonable chance of success, the City was likely to suffer irreparable harm, and that "Once freed, the genie cannot be returned to the bottle." The motion was denied. See: The Chronicle Publishing Company v. Gardella, 10 Mass. L. Rep. 173 (Mass. Super. 1999).

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Related legal case

The Chronicle Publishing Company v. Gardella