Media Contact

ACLU Foundation of Connecticut, 

March 6, 2024

Hartford - In a unanimous ruling last Friday, the Connecticut Appellate Court reinforced that public agencies may not evade Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act by handing off documents to lawyers. 

In affirming that a town document about Avon’s former chief of police–who departed his role suddenly in 2019–must be disclosed, the court held that government agencies cannot simply declare that any document given to a lawyer is covered by the attorney-client privilege. Nor, the court held, can agencies declare public records private when the records involve work-related conduct of public employees. In doing so, the court emphasized that access to information about potential police misconduct is important.  

In 2018, an employee of the town of Avon began documenting "concerning" incidents involving Avon's then-police chief, Mark Rinaldo, creating an 11-page log of Rinaldo’s behavior over several months. The log was brought to Avon’s town manager, resulting in Rinaldo being placed on leave and soon retiring with a $115,000 severance.

Plaintiff J.R. Sastre, a lawyer and First Amendment advocate, was interested in Avon’s silence on Rinaldo's sudden departure. In 2019, he filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the log. The ACLU of Connecticut signed up to represent J.R. in this case to stress that government agencies, including the police, cannot withhold documents arbitrarily.

In total, Avon spent five years and thousands of dollars attempting to keep the document from the public, losing at the Freedom of Information Commission in 2021, the Superior Court in 2022, and again last week at the Appellate Court.

"Friday’s ruling underscores that Connecticut municipalities cannot automatically withhold public records as privileged by simply handing them to a lawyer. This would allow anything and everything to be kept from the public, and defeat the purpose of our Freedom of Information Act," said Elana Bildner, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Foundation of Connecticut. "We are glad that the Appellate Court fully agreed with our client, and proud to support him in upholding the public's right to access information."

"Connecticut residents deserve transparency regarding the actions of government employees, especially when a police chief overseeing a 46-member force is suddenly placed on leave with no explanation," said J.R. Sastre. “Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act is an important tool in holding public employees accountable for what they do on the job. I’m pleased that the court recognized Avon’s attempt at keeping this document hidden for what it was and that the court agrees it must be disclosed.” 

Sastre was represented at the Appellate Court by Bildner, Sapana Anand, and Dan Barrett, all of the ACLU Foundation of Connecticut. 


For more about the case:

For a copy of the decision: