NEW YORK (Aug. 5)
The State University of New York at Stony Brook is not criminally liable for providing false information to the Long Island Jewish World in response to a Freedom of Information Act request because the law itself contains no penalties and there are too many “gaps” in existing laws to make them applicable, Nassau District Attorney Denis Dillon ruled last week, it was reported by Stewart Ain in the latest issue of the Jewish World.
“The issue presented by this situation is novel,” according to a legal opinion sent to Dillon by his staff after a month of research. “No authoritative answer is possible and reasonable men could certainly disagree, but my guess is that a potential defendant has slipped through the gaps in several pre-existing statutes which were never intended to apply to the Freedom of Information Act.”
The Jewish World had sought documents from Stony Brook last February detailing the university’s attempts to solicit foreign governments or businesses in the Middle East for the purpose of establishing endowments or chairs of learning. It formally asked for all such communications under the Freedom of Information Act. A week later, the university replied that no such documents existed. Five months later, the Village Voice newspaper published the documents and the Jewish weekly also obtained them.
HUNG UP ON DEFINITION
The Jewish World then turned the documents over to Dillon. Last week Dillon said that as a result of his office’s findings, there was “only an outside chance that we could have made a case. There were many legal hurdles and the chances for successful prosecution were slight.
“There are no penal sanctions in the Freedom of Information Act and when we tried to apply the Penal Law, we got hung up as to the definition of an official document,” Dillon explained. He said that as a result of this research, we will “probably” recommend some changes in the law when he puts forth his legislative recommendations this fall. “We are now seriously considering trying to close some of the loopholes by an amendment to the Penal Law or by adding sanctions to the Freedom of Information Act,” Dillon said.
New York State Assemblyman Saul Weprin (D. Fresh Meadows), chairman of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, said he was “considering introducing legislation to give teeth to the law. What is the sense of a law if it can’t be enforced?” he asked.