‘Racing Form’ Suit Ends N.Y. Agency’s Screening Policy on FOIA Requests

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(AP) Driven by a court ruling, a state agency has formally ended its 30-year practice of allowing the subjects of Freedom of Information Law requests to help decide what public records should be released.

The Racing and Wagering Board repealed the rule Wednesday, effective in coming weeks, said Mark Stuart, the board’s assistant counsel. But he said the board stopped the prescreening last year after a state Supreme Court judge struck the practice down.

The court case stemmed from the Daily Racing Form newspaper’s attempts in 2002 to get records regarding Catskill Regional Off-Track Betting Corp., a public agency.

The newspaper sought board members’ names, executive salaries, annual reports, contracts, and any reports of criminal or regulatory investigations as well as other financial data, according to a 2003 court decision.

The judge said the state board delayed the request for five months and refused to release some records after a Catskill OTB attorney said they should be withheld. Last year the judge had to again order the board to release the records.

Stuart said board members thought the earlier policy “served a purpose by bringing the subjects into the process,” giving the board advice on, for example, what information might be a trade secret that should be kept from the public.

Stuart said he didn’t know how many FOIL requests were rejected or how many public records were redacted.

Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group said Gov. George Pataki should demand a review of state agencies’ compliance with public records law.

Horner said he thinks the racing board case “opens up a deeper series of questions as to what antics are going on in the executive branch that we don’t know about.”

Pataki spokesman Kevin Quinn said he sees no need for a review because the board’s policy predated the governor’s tenure. “We’re always encouraging agencies to fully comply with the law,” Quinn said.

The newspaper hailed the board’s action.

“We’re very grateful that the board has changed its rule. We think it’s a move in the right direction,” said Rich Rosenbush, editor in chief of the Racing Form.

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