Politics

Hassan Accused of Stonewalling Transparency Suit

Suit: Redacted 100 pages of hospital contract documents without explanation

Maggie Hassan
Maggie Hassan / AP

Democratic New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan's administration may have improperly dodged transparency laws after redacting information looking into a controversial hospital contract, according to a new lawsuit.

The governor's office and several state agencies "blocked out or redacted almost 100 pages of information that may reflect negatively on state government" in response to a Right to Know request filed by the New Hampshire Republican Party. The suit, which was filed in state superior court on Monday afternoon, asks the court to order Hassan and the agencies to submit the un-redacted documents for judicial review in order to make sure that none of the documents were wrongfully withheld.

"The Court can forthwith review the documents in camera and then in turn release those wrongfully redacted pages to the petitioner within 48 hours," the suit, prepared by former state Supreme Court Justice Charles Douglas, says.

The right to know request—a state version of the Freedom of Information Act—was filed after the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center announced massive layoffs just days after being awarded a $37 million contract with the state. Hassan called the layoffs "disappointing and troubling news," but claimed no advanced knowledge of them. GOP Chairwoman Jennifer Horn said that residents should be able to evaluate whether those claims are true after the party filed the right to know request on Sept. 16.

"It appears that Dartmouth-Hitchcock delayed the announcement of layoffs until after Governor Hassan rammed its controversial $36 million contract through the Executive Council and that is absolutely outrageous," Horn said in a statement.  "Governor Hassan claims that she did not know anything about this, which I find hard to believe.  She is either not telling the truth or she is completely asleep at the switch."

The response to that request blocked out potentially damaging information, according to the suit, including whole passages of exchanges between members of the Hassan administration and healthcare industry representatives. The governor's office cited executive privilege for some of the redactions, but the state failed to supply a Vaughan index, which outlines the reason for redactions, "so the petitioner has no idea what the scores of pages fully blocked out even relate to."

"The petitioner believes that the redacted or blocked out pages were made for political, not legal reasons," the suit says. "Political games are not recognized by [the right to know act] as a reason to deny relevant information to the public."

Neither the Hassan administration, nor the Hassan campaign returned request for comment, though each told the New Hampshire Union Leader that the suit is rooted in partisan politics.

Horn said in a release that the administration attempted to "stonewall" the release of documents to "cover-up" the details of the contract.

"It is clear that she is trying to hide these records until after the election so as not to cripple her flailing campaign for the United States Senate," Horn said.  "Granite Staters have a right to know if the bidding process was rigged to benefit the governor's campaign donors."

If the suit is successful, the state will have to supply the court with all of the documents in the request in order to determine the veracity of the redaction claims. The court will then release the information to the Republican Party within two days of its review.