New Hampshire’s highest court has ruled that privileged information divulged at a public meeting is only susceptible to the state’s right to know law if it was first disclosed in the presence of a private citizen.
The ruling is the latest byproduct of the long legal battle between the Professional firefighters association and the Local Government Center-- or LGC. At issue in this case, were the minutes from a series of Local Government Center board meetings.
The firefighters sought access to the complete minutes from these meetings. Invoking attorney client Privilege, the local government center, provided redacted ones. The firefighters argued that since the meetings were open, and the LGC took no steps to keep any part of them private, the meeting minutes were thus entirely public.
The Supreme Court unanimously disagreed.
Citing the lower court ruling that found in the LGC’s favor, the justices noted that “The fact that the meeting occurs in a public place does not destroy the privilege if no one hears the conversation.” The justices added that “because no third persons were present, the LGC wasn’t required to take further action, such as entering into executive session, to ensure the communications were private.”