Judge dismisses lawsuit brought against the city of Nashua by Union LeaderBy KIMBERLY HOUGHTON
Union Leader Correspondent
October 06. 2016 12:30AM
NASHUA — A judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed against the city after police refused to release the identity of a woman who jumped to her death hours after being released from the state psychiatric hospital.
The New Hampshire Union Leader filed a petition for access to public records in the case of Joy Silva, a 63-year-old woman who leaped from the third-floor of her downtown apartment building on July 27 — the same day she was discharged from the New Hampshire Hospital.
An independent investigation is now underway to determine whether Silva’s death was the consequence of poor judgment by medical professionals who had plenty of warning signs, or a tragic but unpredictable event.
The Union Leader previously filed a Right-To-Know request with the Nashua Police Department following the suicide, at which time a redacted police report was provided to a reporter that withheld the identity of the victim.
Although the city’s legal counsel claimed the name was redacted to protect the privacy of the family, the Union Leader maintains in court documents the disclosure of the victim’s name “will facilitate the free flow of information from persons familiar with the decedent and with her dealings with the governmental agencies entrusted with the care of the decedent and those similarly situated,” states Attorney Greg Sullivan.
Through its own independent investigation, the Union Leader was able to discover the identity of the deceased woman.
City Attorney Steven A. Bolton filed a motion in Hillsborough County Superior Court seeking to dismiss the lawsuit, maintaining that the case is moot because the Union Leader already obtained the name of the victim.
The Union Leader, however, argues that the case is not moot because it involves matters of pressing public concern, and the issue is capable of being repeated.
Judge Jacalyn Colburn ruled this week that the public interest has already been satisfied by the newspaper’s ability to determine and publish Silva’s name on its own — without assistance from a Right-To-Know request.
“Here, the information itself — the victim’s name — has no inherent ability to inform the citizenry about the activities of their government,” Colburn states in her ruling, adding the newspaper has not identified any other instances where the city has redacted information.
On Wednesday, Nashua Police Chief Andrew Lavoie said his department followed the advice of its legal counsel.
“We certainly felt we were correct, and wanted to respect the rights of the victim’s family,” said Lavoie. “We want to respect the rights of our victims without infringing on the public’s right to know.”
The chance that a similar case would present itself in the future is very slim, said the chief, adding this was an unusual situation that required guidance from an attorney.
During a hearing last week on the merits of the lawsuit, Sullivan maintained that New Hampshire’s Right-To-Know law was enacted to shed light on government actions.
“There is arguably no greater public interest,” he wrote in court documents. “The name of a decedent in a public record, in this case a police report, is the proper and logical fodder of future requests from the public and the press during the news gathering process.”
Correction: A previous version of this article contained an error. The New Hampshire Union Leader was able to confirm the name of a suicide victim redacted in an official Nashua police report through sources outside New Hampshire Hospital.