Hartford Officials Refuse to Release Federal Subpoena

Oct 28, 2013

Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra told reporters last week that federal prosecutors had served a subpoena on city hall. His attorneys won't release them.
Credit Jeff Cohen / WNPR

Federal prosecutors served a subpoena on Hartford City Hall last week, and attorneys for Mayor Pedro Segarra are refusing to release it to the public.  But a recent case suggests that the city may be violating the state's Freedom of Information laws.

The U.S. Attorney's Office wants a secret grand jury to look at documents from city hall. And reporters want to know what they're looking for. The Hartford Courant says the request has to do with the controversy involving Treasurer Adam Cloud and Hybrid Insurance Group, which is run by a man named Earl O'Garro.

But late Friday, attorneys for Mayor Pedro Segarra declined a request to release the entire subpoena - arguing that federal rules of criminal procedure protect it from disclosure. Attorney Steven Seligman said they're wrong. "The Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission has ruled, as a matter of law, that federal grand jury subpoenas are not exempt from disclosure," he said.

Seligman should know. He recently represented Courant columnist Kevin Rennie before the FOI commission. In that case, Rennie asked the state for copies of federal subpoenas relating to the investigation of then House Speaker Chris Donovan.

Rennie was stalled at first. But he eventually got what he wanted, and the commission found that the subpoenas were not exempt from disclosure, despite the wishes of federal prosecutors. 

"Typically," Seligman said, "the cover letters from the assistant U.S. attorney or the U.S. attorney seeking the subpoenaed information says, 'While we would appreciate your maintaining the confidentiality of this request, we cannot compel you to do so.'''

Dan Klau is an attorney in private practice who teaches at UConn Law and also works with the Yale Law School Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic. He says the rules of federal criminal procedure that speak about grand jury secrecy say nothing at all about keeping subpoenas secret.

"It would be improper," he said, "for a state or municipal recipient of an FOI request for a federal grand jury subpoena to decline to disclose it in its entirety."

WNPR has brought the precedent of the Rennie case to the city's attention. So far, we've not heard back.

UPDATE: The city now says it is considering our request.