Misbehaving police beware: we will know your names. At least, that seems to be the message coming out of 3rd District Court in Salt Lake City where a judge has ruled that a chronic "Cop Vexer" (a name I gave him) is entitled to receive the names of officers who have been disciplined by Murray Police Department.
In a peculiar ruling, however, the judge says that man can't publish or share the cops' names with anyone.
Remember S. Steven Maese? He's the former owner of Doll House and convicted pimp--though he's appealing--who also hired a private investigator in 2007 to tail Salt Lake District Attorney Lohra Miller, among other exploits.
He got in a tiff with Murray Police in 2007, didn't like how they handled his complaint, and thus wanted to investigate the PD's history of citizen complaints and how they were resolved. That lead him to using Utah's open-records law, GRAMA, to request all records of cops who were disciplined by the department in the last 5 years. Not the cops who were accused of wrong-doing but where found blameless, mind you, just those coppers for whom it was determined they truly acted naughty.
Murray objected to Maese's request, and gave him only the records with the officer's names blacked out. Maese challenged that partial denial to the Utah Records Committee, who sided with Maese. Murray filed a complaint in 3rd District Court hoping to overturn the Records Committee's decision, but alas.
Salt Lake City's 3rd District Judge Michele M. Christiansen wrote in her order, issued Tuesday:
It is in the public interest to know when a police officer has abused or violated those duties. Even where two officers were off duty, they were disciplined for involving a police vehicle in their misconduct and for conduct unbecoming of a police officer. Another officer was disciplined for damaging police equipment; another for sleeping on duty and others were disciplined for using profane language while on duty or at official events. Disclosure of the names associated with the discipline records will clarify which officers committed which infractions in the performance of their official duties. (emphasis mine)
Chalk one up for the open-records advocates!
Except, wait--, huh? Whoa, what's this the judge wrote at the end?
The court orders plaintiff to disclose the names of the officers to Mr. Maese in full. The court orders Mr. Maese to limit his use of the records and names by not publishing them nor disclosing them any further.
WTF? You may or may not be surprised that Christiansen cites no statutes or court precedents for this. I've read, and reread GRAMA several times in my career. I'm familiar with some--though not all--controlling court precedents in this area. I think it's fair to say Christiansen just kinda made this part up, and her lack of citations belies that. GRAMA instructs her to balance the cops' rights to privacy vs. the public's right to know, but once she has found in favor of the public, I don't think she has the authority to control what the public does with it. But I'm no lawyer, so why are you listening to me?
Maese, something of an armature attorney at this point, has been litigating the case himself without a lawyer. When I asked him what he's going to do next, he rattles off lawyer jargon.
"You can do a motion to amend a judgment. That's what I'm going to do," he said. "I'm going to call her [Christiansen] out on this. I don't think she has the law behind her to support this."
The most hilarious part of this is Maese has also sent me a copy of a GRAMA request her served on Murray City to see all their billing records to the private law firm they hired to oppose him in this court battle. The city hired real attorneys--and paid them--but hobbyist lawyer Maese beat them. You gotta smirk when David beats Goliath.