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Harvard asked a judge to dismiss a Crimson lawsuit that seeks access to Harvard University Police Department (HUPD) police records in a hearing at Middlesex District Court yesterday.
The Crimson’s suit, filed last July, seeks to make HUPD incident reports on arrests and crime publicly available.
The judge said she expects to rule on the motion in the next few weeks.
According to the motion that the University filed, Harvard is exempt from the Massachusetts law that guarantees access to public records because the University is “a private educational institution.”
Mitchell C. Bailin, an attorney with Palmer & Dodge who is representing Harvard, argued yesterday that the open records law pertains only to records “that reside in the custody of governmental agencies.”
“The purpose [of the law] is to provide and ensure public access to records,” Bailin said. “Harvard is a fundamentally private entity.”
He said that because the records involving HUPD were created by Harvard—a non-governmental establishment—the University is not bound by the Massachusetts public records law.
“Everyone sees that they [HUPD officers] are employees of Harvard University,” Bailin said. “Here, these people simply have been delegated duties to arrest.”
He also said that requiring the University to release its records would be an undue burden because HUPD would have to distinguish which of its records are private and which are public.
Amber R. Anderson, an attorney with Dechert who is representing The Crimson, said at the hearing that because Harvard police officers act as deputized agents for Massachusetts, the records they create should be public.
“Just because public records are physically put in another building doesn’t mean they’re not public,” Anderson said.
“It’s not Harvard that gives HUPD officers the right to arrest,” Anderson added. “It’s the state.”
Anderson also said that access to records of police stops and reports is important for The Crimson’s reporting and for oversight of the police department.
“I think it went really well today and I’m confident in the strength of our case,” said Crimson President Erica K. Jalli ’05.
In similar cases around the country that followed The Crimson’s lawsuit, judges have ruled that campus records are subject to public scrutiny.
This month, a county supreme court judge ordered Cornell University to publicize some records relating to genetic research. Cornell had argued it was not bound by freedom of information acts.
In late January, Mercer University was ordered to release its campus crime records. Mercer also argued that it was a private entity in efforts to keep the records sealed.
—Staff writer Hera A. Abbasi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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