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News Center Maine v. Hamilton

Superior Court of Maine, Kennebec

May 3, 2018

NEWS CENTER Maine, a Maine Corporation with a place of business in Portland, County of Cumberland, State of Maine, Plaintiff
v.
RICKER HAMILTON, in his capacity as the Commissioner of the Maine State Department of Health and Human Services, with an office in Augusta, County of Kennebec, State of Maine, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM R. STOKES, JUDGE.

         BACKGROUND

         Marissa Kennedy Case

         On March 6, 2018, Plaintiff, NEWS CENTER Maine, submitted a request under the Maine Freedom of Access Act ("the FOAA"), 1 M.R.S. §§ 401 et seq., to Defendant, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services ("the Commissioner"). Plaintiff requested records related to Marissa Kennedy (age 10), who passed away on February 25, 2018, seeking (1) any case files at the Department of Health and Human Services ("the Department") including the names Marissa Kennedy, Sharon Carrillo, or Julio Carrillo and (2) any correspondence within the Department (emails, voicemails, or text messages) involving the words "Marissa Kennedy," "Sharon Carrillo," or "Julio Carrillo" from September 2016 until the date the request was filed.

         The Department responded later the same day, denying the request because the requested records are confidential under 22 M.R.S. § 4008 and are also not subject to release under 22 M.R.S. § 4008-A because any such release could jeopardize a criminal proceeding.

         Petitioner appealed this decision to the Court on March 12, 2018.

         Criminal proceedings are currently pending against Sharon Carrillo and Julio Carrillo, Marissa's mother and stepfather with whom she lived, in the Waldo County Unified Criminal Docket at Docket Numbers WALCD-CR-2018-146 and WALCD-CR-2018-147, respectively.

         Kendall Chick Case

         On March 9, 2018, Plaintiff submitted a request under the FOAA to Defendant requesting records related to Kendall Chick (age 4), who passed away on December 8, 2017. The request sought (1) any case files at the Department including the names Kendall Chick, Shawna Gatto, or Stephen Hood and (2) any correspondence within DHHS (emails, voicemails, or text messages) involving the words "Kendall Chick," "Shawna Gatto," or "Stephen Hood" from July 2016 until the date the request was filed.

         The Department responded later the same day, denying the request because the requested records are confidential and disclosure of them at that time could jeopardize criminal proceedings, citing 22 M.R.S. §§ 4008 and 4008-A.

         Petitioner appealed this decision to the Court on March 19, 2018.

         Shawna Gatto is the fiancee of Stephen Hood, the grandfather of Kendall Chick. At the time of her death, Kendall Chick was living with Mr. Hood and Ms. Gatto. Criminal proceedings are currently pending against Shawna Gatto in the Lincoln County Unified Criminal Docket at Docket Number LINCD-CR-2017-887.

         Consolidated Cases

         By agreement of the parties, the Court ordered these two cases consolidated pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 42(a). The Department drafted two press releases containing information regarding its involvement with Marissa Kennedy and Kendall Chick ("the draft press releases"). The Office of the Attorney General has advised the Department that it is concerned that public disclosure of information through the draft press releases could jeopardize the three pending criminal ...


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