City's appeal of ruling to release Clark report heard

Officials say police review of domestic case is private

October 27, 2004|By Sarah Schaffer | Sarah Schaffer,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals heard arguments yesterday on whether Baltimore officials should be forced to release an independent review of a domestic dispute involving Police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark.

Last month, Circuit Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan ruled that the report was not a personnel record and that it should be released to the news media. City lawyers appealed, and the panel delayed the report's release pending a hearing.

City Solicitor Ralph S. Tyler told the judges yesterday that the report should not be provided to The Sun and WBAL-TV, which sued for its release, because it was always intended to be a personnel record.

Tyler said Mayor Martin O'Malley asked Howard County police to conduct the independent review so that he could decide on Clark's employment status. "I think it is quintessentially for a personnel purpose," Tyler said.

But the newspaper's lawyer, Mary R. Craig, said that O'Malley -- as the "custodian" of the report -- has not legally proved that the documents contain confidential personnel material.

The mayor, Craig told the judges, "could not have done less" to support his case.

Overturning Kaplan's ruling would send a message to all of the state's public record keepers that they are not bound to release anything in the future, Craig said.

On May 15, Clark's longtime fiancee, Blanca Gerena, reportedly accused him of assaulting her inside the couple's North Baltimore condominium. Both later denied that the incident occurred. O'Malley has said that Howard County police concluded that any possible charges against Clark would be "unsubstantiated."

Yesterday, Tyler told the court that the documents contain information that "might prejudice the other investigations" in the case. Tyler urged the court to overturn Kaplan's decision because the judge never saw the documents.

Stephanie S. Abrutyn, a lawyer who also represents The Sun, said the judges could set a precedent if they rule that the circuit court should personally review the reports in order to make a new judgment about their confidentiality. Said Abrutyn: "It could undermine the spirit of the Public Information Act by inserting unnecessary delay into [future] cases."

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