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City Must Tell Newspaper About Cozy Ticket Plan

(CN) - The city of Albany cannot keep a newspaper from learning the identities of citizens who received "no-fine" parking tickets, a New York appeals court ruled.

The Hearst Corp. sued the city of behalf its Albany Times Union newspaper and reporter Brendan Lyons.

Lyons' investigation revealed that city employees, politically connected citizens and their families received tickets that did not carry a fine.

The city refused the reporter's Freedom of Information Law request, and Hearst took the matter to court.

A trial judge ruled in the city's favor, but the Albany-based third appellate district overturned the ruling on Oct. 20.

The court rejected the city's argument that the records should be sealed under state law.

"The fatal flaw in respondent's contention, however, is that (the law) applies only to records arising from a criminal action or proceeding, both of which occur in criminal courts," Justice Thomas Mercure wrote for the five-judge panel.

"The FOIL requests here, by contrast, sought documents related to tickets, that respondent had administratively dismissed, and disclaimed any interest in those that had been dismissed by a judge in city or traffic court," he added.

Albany had also argued that disclosing the names on the list would cause "an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy" and that the people on the list would be "offended" by the public learning of their inclusion on it.

"Far from outweighing that personal umbrage, however, is the public's interest in the circumstances surrounding respondent's administrative dismissal of tens of thousands of parking tickets, which necessarily requires the disclosure of the recipients' identities given the allegations that respondent afforded preferential treatment in dismissing tickets issued to certain classes of individuals," Mercure wrote.

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