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Attorney General Kilmartin Files APRA Lawsuit Against Woonsocket Superintendent's Office

The Office of Attorney General filed a complaint in Rhode Island Superior Court citing the Woonsocket School Superintendent's Office for a knowing and willful violation of the Rhode Island Access to Public Records Act (APRA).

On December 1, 2012, Cynthia Boss made an APRA request to the Superintendent's Office for certain documents pertaining to the Woonsocket School Sick Leave Pool Board of Governors. Within 10 business days from the request, the Superintendent's Office extended the time to respond to the request by 20 additional business days, as allowed by APRA, for a total of 30 business days from the date of the APRA request. The Superintendent's Office, however, failed to provide a response by the January 15, 2013, the deadline by which the Superintendent's Office was required to provide a response to the APRA request.

In fact, the Superintendent's Office did not provide a response to the December 1, 2012 APRA request until March 7, 2013, when it responded to the Office of Attorney General regarding the APRA complaint and investigation.

Under the APRA, a public body has 10 business days to respond to a request for documents. R.I. Gen. Laws § 38-2-7. If the public body denies the request, a written response detailing the specific reasons for the denial shall be sent within those 10 business days to the person or entity making the request. R.I. Gen. Laws § 38-2-7(a). If no response is sent within 10 business days, the lack of response will be deemed a denial. R.I. Gen. Laws § 38-2-7(b). If, for good cause, the public body cannot comply with a records request within 10 business days, then the public body may extend the time period an additional 20 business days, for a total of 30 business days. R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 38-2-7(a) and 38-2-3(e).

After further investigation, the Office of Attorney General released a supplemental finding, Boss v. Woonsocket Superintendent's Office, PR 13-19B, wherein it determined that there is sufficient evidence to conclude that the Superintendent's Office knowingly and willfully violated the APRA.

"The standard for committing a knowing or willful violation of the APRA is not whether a public body does so with the intent to advance its own interest or to shield its actions from public scrutiny. The standard is whether the public body is cognizant that it may be subject to the APRA and failed to take reasonable steps to address the issue. It is clear in this instance that the Woonsocket Superintendent's Office was aware it was a body subject to APRA, yet failed to take steps necessary to ensure its compliance with the statute," said Attorney General Kilmartin.

The maximum penalty under the APRA is $2,000 for each knowing and willful violation

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