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Attorney General Kilmartin Settles Two Open Government Lawsuits

On the heels of announcing three open government settlements in the past two weeks, Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin today announced that the Office had reached settlements with the Albion Fire District for violations of the Open Meetings Act (OMA) and the City of Woonsocket for a violation of the Access to Public Records Act (APRA).

Under the terms of the consent judgment, the Albion Fire District has agreed to pay $5,000 to settle two OMA lawsuits filed by the Office of Attorney General in 2010 and 2011. The lawsuits stemmed from the Albion Fire District's failure to provide adequate public notice concerning the nature of business discussed at multiple public meetings.

The Fire District contested the lawsuit arguing it was not a public body, and therefore not subject to OMA. The Office of Attorney General opposed this position. On March 19, 2013, Superior Court Justice Luis M. Matos agreed with the Office of Attorney General and found that the Albion Fire District was a public body, that the Fire District was required to comply with the OMA, and that the Fire District's meeting notices violated the OMA. The only issue left remaining was the imposition of a fine.

"This judgment represents the maximum fine that can be weighed upon a public body for failure to comply with the OMA. More important, however, is the precedent this case set in clarifying that fire districts are subject to our open government laws, as they should be," said Attorney General Kilmartin.

Under the terms of the settlement agreement with the City of Woonsocket, the City has agreed to pay $2,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the Office of Attorney General for failure to provide a response to an APRA request under the timeframe allowed by statute.

On December 21, 2012, Attorney Michael Kelly, on behalf of the Law Offices of Michael Kelly, filed an APRA request with the City of Woonsocket. The City extended the time to respond, which was due around February 13, 2013, yet failed to provide a response. The Office of Attorney General determined that there was sufficient evidence to conclude that the City knowing and willfully violated the APRA when it failed to timely respond to the request and filed a lawsuit in Rhode Island Superior Court.

"This Office has repeatedly instructed public bodies that an APRA request must be responded to in a timely manner and the failure to do so violates state law. The City of Woonsocket's APRA violation not only has consequences resulting in a monetary fine, but also tarnishes the public's expectation that its government officials act in a transparent and open manner," said Kilmartin.

In the past two weeks, Attorney General Kilmartin has entered into separate agreements with the Nasonville Fire District, the Department of Business Regulation and the Town of Warren to settle claims each had violated the Access to Public Records Act (APRA) for failing to respond to APRA requests within the timeframe dictated by the statute.

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