NEW YORK, Nov 23 (Reuters) - A judge on Wednesday ordered
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office to release emails
between mayoral officials and former schools chancellor
Cathleen Black, who resigned last April after a controversial
three months in office.
Journalist Sergio Hernandez, who at the time was working
for the Village Voice, requested the documents on Nov. 19,
2010, approximately 10 days after Bloomberg announced that
Black would replace longtime chancellor Joel Klein, according
to court documents.
But the mayor's office denied the request. In a response, a
lawyer for the mayor's office said the emails could be kept
sealed under two statutes governing public officers: one allows
agencies to withhold documents if disclosure "would constitute
an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy," while the other
allows agencies to withhold "inter-agency and intra-agency
materials," he asserted.
After his subsequent appeal to the city was denied,
Hernandez filed a civil petition seeking the documents. State
Supreme Court Justice Alice Schlesinger ruled that the city's
argument was baseless.
"The conclusory, blanket denials do not satisfy the
standard set by the law," she wrote. "What is more, a review of
the two claimed exemptions reveals that neither one applies."
The privacy exception, she ruled, was intended to protect
"information of a genuinely private nature only" and had to be
balanced with the public interest in disclosure. In the case of
Black, who was previously the president of Hearst magazines,
Schlesinger noted that her background was of particular value
to the public, since she required a waiver from the state
education department due to her lack of relevant experience.
"As Ms. Black did not meet the credentialing requirements
for the all-important position of School Chancellor, the public
has the right to know what information about her employment
history and qualifications was disclosed in the e-mails," the
judge wrote. "Any information of an intensely personal nature
could easily be redacted, with the balance of the information
Schlesinger also said that the "inter-agency" rule did not
apply, as Black was still a private citizen at the time and did
not yet work for the city.
Hernandez said he was pleased by the decision and was
looking forward to seeing what the emails contain. "It's not
uncommon for agencies to stonewall you and basically force you
to take them to court to get what you're looking for," he
In an email, a spokeswoman from the city's law department
said, "We are disappointed with the decision and are
considering our legal options."
Schlesinger took note that New York City Public Advocate
Bill de Blasio is currently examining why the city "fails so
miserably to release even the most routine data requested under
the state's Freedom of Information Law," she wrote, quoting a
New York Times editorial.
The case is in the Matter of the Application of Sergio
Hernandez, New York Supreme Court, New York County, No.
For Hernandez: Elizabeth Wolstein of Schlam, Stone & Dolan
For the mayor's office: Jeffrey Dantowitz of the city's
(Reporting by Joseph Ax)
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