Argued: May 16, 2019
Circuit Court-Claremont Family Division
J. MacDonald, attorney general (Daniel E. Will, solicitor
general, on the brief and orally), for the State.
Stephanie Hausman, deputy chief appellate defender, of
Concord, on the brief and orally, for the juvenile.
& Sullivan Lawyers Professional Corporation, of Hingham,
Massachusetts (Kathleen C. Sullivan on the brief), for Union
Leader Corporation, as amicus curiae.
State filed a petition for original jurisdiction seeking
review of an order of the Circuit Court (Yazinski,
J.) denying a request by the Office of the Attorney General
(AGO) to release records underlying its investigation into an
incident involving minors. See Sup. Ct. R. 11. We
affirm the court's ruling that the records are
confidential under RSA 169-B:35 (Supp. 2018).
to the AGO, in 2017, an incident involving several minors
occurred in Claremont. The AGO, the United States
Attorney's Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation,
and the Claremont Police Department jointly investigated the
incident. Subsequently, the Sullivan County Attorney filed
delinquency petitions in the circuit court against one of the
AGO, thereafter, sought court authorization "to disclose
the details of its investigation, its conclusions of fact and
law, and the nature of the Claremont Police Department's
delinquency charges and the disposition in [the] delinquency
matter." As grounds for the request, the AGO cited
"the intense public interest in and scrutiny of its
investigation." The AGO asserted that the evidence
obtained during the investigation was not confidential under
RSA 169-B:35 but, even if it were, "significant policy
considerations" allowed disclosure as long as the
juvenile's identity was protected.
a hearing, the trial court rejected the AGO's argument
that RSA chapter 169-B does not apply to the AGO's
investigatory records. The court stated that "RSA
169-B:35 provides that all case records relative to
delinquencies are confidential. Publication of information
concerning a juvenile case is strictly prohibited with few
legislatively enacted exceptions. None of those exceptions
apply in this case." The court further stated that
the courts, police departments, and prosecutors throughout
the state have always considered the investigative files of
agencies involved with juvenile delinquencies to be subject
to the confidentiality provisions of RSA 169-B. To find
otherwise would render the confidentiality requirements of
the statute meaningless. Little would be gained from closing
court records to the public while allowing prosecutorial
agencies to discuss and disclose their findings and records
with the press or to publicly release those records.
court found, however, that "a limited release of
information would, in fact, assist" in the
juvenile's rehabilitation and, accordingly, it granted
the AGO's request to "release information contained
in [the AGO's] investigative reports as well as its
investigative conclusion." The court also authorized the
AGO "to acknowledge that a delinquency case has been
opened . . . and a Dispositional Order adopted" and that
the court "will continue to exercise jurisdiction over
this juvenile as [the juvenile] complies with Dispositional
Orders and engages in . . . rehabilitative services."
The court ordered that "[p]rior to the release of any
information or media statements, the Attorney General's
Office shall provide counsel for the juvenile with a copy of
the documents it intends to release" as well as
providing a copy to the court.
the AGO submitted to the trial court a 25-page draft report
that protected the confidentiality of the victim and the
witnesses and documented: (1) the scope of its investigation;
(2) the facts it found during its investigation; and (3) its
conclusions based on those facts. Following a hearing, the
court authorized the AGO to release the report as written.
The AGO, thereafter, renewed its request to release its
underlying investigative records - approximately 400 pages
consisting of, among other things, transcripts of interviews
conducted by the child advocacy center, the AGO, and the
Claremont Police Department; Claremont Police Department
documents; and medical records. The trial court denied the
motion, and this appeal followed.
appeal, the State argues that the trial court erred in
denying the AGO's request to release its underlying
investigative materials because: (1) they do not constitute
"case" or "court" records within the
meaning of RSA 169-B:35; and (2) even if the confidentiality
provisions of RSA 169-B:35 apply to them, the court
interpreted the statute "too broadly" in denying
the AGO's request to release redacted ...