February 01, 2012LITTLETON — A local businessman's right-to-know case cleared its first hurdle in the state Supreme Court when it was accepted as a mandatory appeal on Jan. 20.
Gold House Pizza owner Jim Sourgiadakis is seeking documents from the town of Littleton relating to a boycott of a dozen businesses last spring by the State Employees' Association of New Hampshire (SEA).
The union felt that a deep cut in the town's 2011 budget, which it said was proposed by business owners who "organized under the name 'Littleton Citizens for Growth with Common Sense,'" was about "pursuing profits in lieu of these critical public services." It retracted the action after a few weeks of intense local criticism, but the damage was done.
Sourgiadakis filed a complaint at the end of July, claiming that the boycott was orchestrated by "certain members of the Littleton Police Department," who used town equipment to do so. Specifically named were Police Chief Paul Smith and officer Michelle Soares, who has since left the department. He had sought all correspondence, electronic or otherwise, that the town had relating to the boycott, but his request was only partially fulfilled due to concerns of personnel privacy. Sourgiadakis also accused SEA of threatening Littleton with litigation if it disclosed the documents.
"The refusal by Littleton, through the SEA, to produce the requested records concerning the boycott has had a chilling affect on Sourgiadakis' 1st Amendment guarantees …," reads the complaint.
On Sept. 2, a superior court judge ordered a few additional documents to be released, but mostly sided with the town on the issue of personnel confidentiality under RSA 91-A:5.
Sourgiadakis filed a motion Sept. 19 for reconsideration and a motion to search for and produce additional records. By Nov. 3, the motion for reconsideration was denied, and the second request was met with the decision that Sourgiadakis would be responsible for the $4,180 cost to search 22 computer hard drives for any documents pertaining to his request.
The decisions were appealed to the state Supreme Court on Dec. 2.
Now that the case has been accepted, a few steps remain before it even gets a chance to go before the justices, according to a court clerk. First up is mediation.
The parties have until Feb. 6 to let the court know that they would like to attempt finding a compromise. SEA — the third party in the case since the superior court judge granted its motion to intervene in his Sept. 2 decision— has already signaled that it's willing to talk.
Union attorney Michael Reynolds said he respects Sourgiadakis' right to seek the documents and thinks that disputes don't always have to progress to litigation.
"It's always better to come to an agreement of something acceptable rather than to fight about it," he said.
By last Friday, Sourgiadakis was still undecided as to what he wanted to do. He was considering the expense of continuing on with litigation and the impact that a state Supreme Court right-to-know decision could have beyond Littleton. He also was frustrated with SEA's involvement, yet curious as to why they were so quick to want to mediate.
"This [dispute] has nothing to do with them," said Sourgiadakis. "This is between me and the town … what could they possibly want?"
He has a hard time believing that it would cost so much time and money to search the hard drives.
"I could do the same search at home and it would take a half-hour," he said.
By Monday, the Board of Selectmen had not yet had a chance to review the option for mediation, said Interim Town Manager Fred Moody.