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Peter Henner

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FREEDOM OF INFORMATION

Peter Henner is a recognized New York State authority on governmental access laws within New York State: the Freedom of Information Law, the Open Meetings Law and the Personal Privacy Protection Law.  In 1996, he established the Sunshine Newsletter, a monthly publication dedicated to covering the development of governmental access laws within New York State.  The Sunshine Newsletter provided summaries of all major court decisions pertaining to open access laws. The Newsletter also reported on the opinions of the New York State Committee on Open Government, whose Executive Director, Robert Freeman, Esq., is internationally recognized as an expert on governmental access.

Peter was solely responsible for the editing and publication of the Sunshine Newsletter from February 1996 through the fall of 1998, when the responsibility for the Sunshine Newsletter was taken over by the law firm of Young and Ritzenberg (now Young, Sommer).

In March 2009, Peter organized and moderated a Continuing Legal Education seminar for Lorman Educational Services "What You Need to Know about Public Records and Open Meetings."

Since the reelection of Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2014, New York state agencies have demonstrated a disturbing  tendency to stonewall and delay responses to legitimate FOIL requests, particularly  when the records sought may be politically sensitive.  Peter  is committed to challenging this; when a state public benefit corporation,  Empire State  Development,  refused to respond to a FOIL request for over two months, Peter filed a petition in state Supreme Court challenging  the delay as a "constructive denial" in February 2016, and  quickly obtained the requested records. Peter believes that more such cases can and should be brought, especially since there is a significant likelihood of recovering  attorney's fees in such cases.

Peter's interest in governmental access laws is directly related to his long career as a political activist, his work in advising community groups, labor unions and environmental organizations, and his use of open access laws to obtain information for environmental citizen suits to be brought on behalf of environmental organizations.  Peterís interest in these laws also stems from his strong commitment to civil rights, and from his vigorous advocacy on behalf of the First Amendment.

Peter's first experience with governmental access laws was his 1975 federal Freedom of Information request for his Federal Bureau of Investigation file, which he subsequently received in 1977. The FBIís interest in Peter was apparently triggered by a column that he had written in 1971 for an undergraduate newspaper, the Livingston College Medium, criticizing United States policy in Vietnam. The FBI obtained Peterís student identification photo, as well as substantial personal information about him from Rutgers University. The experience, combined with the public disclosures about the FBIís abuses of civil rights during the COINTELPRO program, convinced Peter that open access to public records is essential to protect the public against governmental abuse of power.
 


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