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Public records

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Lewis County leaders finally got around to following the law last week by releasing the identities of victims in a fatal November accident.

In disregard for the law and tradition, the Sheriff’s Department cited an invasion of privacy as reason to withhold the names of an injured woman and her nearly 6-month-old daughter, who was killed in the Nov. 20 accident, as an invasion of privacy in deference to their Amish beliefs.

An invasion-of-privacy argument, though, could be used by police to withhold the name of anyone involved in an accident or other incidents.

The Johnson Newspaper Corp. filed a request for the names a week later under the Freedom of Information law. However, County Attorney Richard J. Graham, acting as the county’s public access record, chose to ignore well-established practices and New York law based on rulings issued by the state Committee on Open Government that the names were public information.

Mr. Graham rejected the request as an “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” The Times appealed the determination, citing opinions of Robert J. Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, noting that accident reports have been available to the public in their entirety since the 1940s. There are no provisions in the law that allow for the names to be withheld on religious grounds.

Mr. Graham’s denial was withdrawn and the names released after wasting three weeks of time.

The outcome should ensure future access to the public record not subject to the whim of Lewis County officials.

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