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ACLU seeks to reopen Salisbury MPIA case

The ACLU of Maryland is seeking to reopen a Maryland Public Information Act case against Salisbury because attorneys say the city has not complied with the court’s August order requiring the production of documents.

The original complaint, filed in 2017, was administratively closed after Wicomico County Circuit Judge W. Newton Jackson III granted summary judgment and ordered the release of records pertaining to a 2016 excessive force lawsuit settlement.

The ACLU and The Real News Network had requested the documents, and the city responded that it did not have any in its possession because the litigation was handled by Local Government Insurance Trust. Jackson ruled the LGIT is an agent of the city and the records are public ones.

The city turned over documents following Jackson’s ruling in August but according to ACLU attorney Nick Steiner, the plaintiffs only received the settlement agreement, which appeared to be missing pages (the defendants’ signature page was not included), and no other documents or correspondence about the lawsuit.

“It doesn’t really seem like they’re following the court’s order,” he said.

The plaintiffs moved to reopen the case and enforce Jackson’s order on Dec. 5 and the city responded in opposition on Dec. 19, according to electronic court records. The ACLU replied Friday.

Steiner said after Jackson’s ruling that the plaintiffs served nearly-identical MPIA requests for other settlement agreements and some have been produced.

With respect to others, the city continues to “rely on arguments that the Court explicitly rejected as illegitimate justifications for the denial of public records,” according to Friday’s filing.

The city argues the court cannot reopen the case because after 30 days it cannot revise its judgment. In response to allegations about incomplete production of documents, the city attached an affidavit from a LGIT attorney explaining that the city did not “execute” the settlement agreement.

In the underlying case, the plaintiffs were in a group of about 25 people who had congregated in a parking lot by a restaurant near the school in May 2014 when police officers arrived to disperse the crowd. As the students headed back toward the school via a tunnel under Route 13, they claimed, an officer grabbed one of the plaintiffs and threw him to the ground without provocation. The three other plaintiffs were similarly attacked, according to the lawsuit.

Three of the plaintiffs were charged with failing to obey and held overnight in jail but ultimately were found not guilty in separate trials.

Ernest I. “Skip” Cornbrooks IV, a lawyer for the city, declined to comment Monday. Cornbrooks is a partner at Karpinski, Colaresi & Carp P.A. in Baltimore.

The case is American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Maryland et al. vs. City of Salisbury et al., C-22-CV-17-000440.

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