"If the judges interpret the laws themselves, and suffer none else to interpret, they may easily make, of the laws, [a shredded] shipman's hose!" - King James I of England, around 1616.

“No class of the community ought to be allowed freer scope in the expression or publication of opinions as to the capacity, impartiality or integrity of judges than members of the bar. They have the best opportunities of observing and forming a correct judgment. They are in constant attendance on the courts. Hundreds of those who are called on to vote never enter a court-house, or if they do, it is only at intervals as jurors, witnesses or parties. To say that an attorney can only act or speak on this subject under liability to be called to account and to be deprived of his profession and livelihood by the very judge or judges whom he may consider it his duty to attack and expose, is a position too monstrous to be entertained for a moment under our present system,” Justice Sharwood in Ex Parte Steinman and Hensel, 95 Pa 220, 238-39 (1880).

“This case illustrates to me the serious consequences to the Bar itself of not affording the full protections of the First Amendment to its applicants for admission. For this record shows that [the rejected attorney candidate] has many of the qualities that are needed in the American Bar. It shows not only that [the rejected attorney candidate] has followed a high moral, ethical and patriotic course in all of the activities of his life, but also that he combines these more common virtues with the uncommon virtue of courage to stand by his principles at any cost.

It is such men as these who have most greatly honored the profession of the law. The legal profession will lose much of its nobility and its glory if it is not constantly replenished with lawyers like these. To force the Bar to become a group of thoroughly orthodox, time-serving, government-fearing individuals is to humiliate and degrade it.” In Re Anastaplo, 18 Ill. 2d 182, 163 N.E.2d 429 (1959), cert. granted, 362 U.S. 968 (1960), affirmed over strong dissent, 366 U.S. 82 (1961), Justice Black, Chief Justice Douglas and Justice Brennan, dissenting.

" I do not believe that the practice of law is a "privilege" which empowers Government to deny lawyers their constitutional rights. The mere fact that a lawyer has important responsibilities in society does not require or even permit the State to deprive him of those protections of freedom set out in the Bill of Rights for the precise purpose of insuring the independence of the individual against the Government and those acting for the Government”. Lathrop v Donohue, 367 US 820 (1961), Justice Black, dissenting.

"The legal profession must take great care not to emulate the many occupational groups that have managed to convert licensure from a sharp weapon of public defense into blunt instrument of self-enrichment". Walter Gellhorn, "The Abuse of Occupational Licensing", University of Chicago Law Review, Volume 44 Issue 1, September of 1976.

“Because the law requires that judges no matter how corrupt, who do not act in the clear absence of jurisdiction while performing a judicial act, are immune from suit, former Judge Ciavarella will escape liability for the vast majority of his conduct in this action. This is, to be sure, against the popular will, but it is the very oath which he is alleged to have so indecently, cavalierly, baselessly and willfully violated for personal gain that requires this Court to find him immune from suit”, District Judge A. Richard Caputo in H.T., et al, v. Ciavarella, Jr, et al, Case No. 3:09-cv-00286-ARC in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, Document 336, page 18, November 20, 2009. This is about judges who were sentencing kids to juvenile detention for kickbacks.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Taxpayer-paid cell phone numbers and e-mails of some (291), but not all, employees of Otsego County, New York

On September 8, 2015 I filed a Freedom of Information request with the Otsego County, New York, asking, among other things, e-mails and cell-phone numbers assigned (and paid-for) by the County to its employees.  All of them.

My FOIL was triggered by this announcement on the County's website (which is still very much there).

I promised to my readers that I will try hard to obtain the cell phone numbers of phones that taxpayers pay to provide to County employees - and I succeeded, partially at this time.

FOIL requires the County to provide the records within 5 business days.

I made my FOIL request on September 8, 2015, a Tuesday, by e-mail, which was instantly received by the County, so there were no excuses for any delays.

5 business days were up within a week, by September 15, 2015 another Tuesday.

Yet, initially I was told by Otsego County that they are taking their sweet time to do a "legal review" of my request - which does not constitute legal grounds for the delay.

The County Attorney who was supposed to conduct the "legal review" is Ellen Coccoma:

Ellen Coccoma is the wife of the Chief Administrative Judge for upstate New York Michael Coccoma, Ellen Coccoma, who holds two jobs (that I know of) - as a full-time County Attorney, and as a "special counsel" for a large Binghamton law firm Hinman, Howard and Kattel, LLP (for that reason, I asked for Ellen Coccoma's own time-sheets for certain dates, which I still did not get.

I understand, Ellen Coccoma was too busy in her multiple jobs to conduct a 5-second research on the Internet, on the website of the Committee for Open Government, to find the Committee's advisory opinion of June 5, 2007, providing, among other things, that "the telephone numbers and email addresses assigned to public employees clearly relate to the performance of their duties and, therefore, there is nothing “personal” or intimate about them".

After much additional correspondence with Otsego County that I did not have to engage had Otsego County complied with the Freedom of Information Law as they were supposed to, the Otsego County sent me SOME information about "assigned" (not necessarily cell phone numbers) of its officers and employees, and some e-mail addresses of its officers and employees while keeping them secret on their website.

Providing "assigned" phone numbers, without indicating that they are assigned cell phone numbers, as I requested, is not an appropriate response to my FOIL request.

It appears that the phone number provided to me of, let's say, Otsego County District Attorney John Muehl, (607) 432-7568, is his cell phone number, since it does not coincide with his office number listed on the Otsego County website, (607) 547-4249, but, since the Otsego County did not state in so many words that the assigned phone numbers disclosed are cell phone numbers, there is no clarity about that.  

The first 3 digits appear of many disclosed phone numbers (published below) appear to be of local cell phone numbers, but I did not ask in my FOIL to make me guess or speculate, I asked disclosure of assigned CELL phone numbers, and I did not get a statement that the disclosed numbers are CELL phone numbers, making disclosure incomplete.

Otsego County also stated that "disclosure of cell phone numbers and email addresses of law enforcement personnel and emergency services personnel is denied pursuant to Public Officers Law Section 87, subd. 2".

Please, note, that while I asked the records to be provided to me to my e-mail address in a scanned format, not utilizing any paper, the records were sent to me in printed format, against my wishes, and the County is attempting to charge me $2.75.  

Yet, the County was supposed to provide to me scanned copies of the 11 pages it sent me for free, which is exceedingly clear from the advisory opinion of the New York State Committee for the Open Government of September 4, 2012, also available after a 15-second word-search on the FOIL advisory opinion index.

Moreover, as a veteran of e-filing with federal courts, I know that any information that exists on a computer, and cell phone and e-mail assignments are obviously kept by Otsego County in a computer file and not in a leather-bound hand-scribbled volume, such computer files (any files) can be easily printed into a pdf file and attached to an e-mail - so no scanning and no printing is even required to produce a CRISP pdf print and satisfying my FOIL request the way it was made, requesting an attachment of requested records by e-mail.

Moreover, even if Otsego County was decided between scanning and printing, its decision to print and not to scan, as I requested, is even more suspect that Otsego County happily announced on its own website an ongoing sale of "surplus" equipment:

I read buyers' feedback to Otsego County and printed it - 8 pages of it.

In those feedbacks, Otsego County is praised for selling, individually and as LOTS, printers, SCANNERS, monitors and other valuable equipment - for peanuts.

I preserved those feedbacks - by paperlessly printing them into a PDF file, and will run a separate blog analyzing the types of equipment and prices for which it was sold to happy e-bay buyers whose names remain "private", even though equipment belonging to taxpayers must be sold at PUBLIC auctions, with names of people who bought it being PUBLIC, to preclude self-dealing of Otsego County officers and employees and giving themselves taxpayer-funded equipment for free or nearly for free.

I will also turn the feedbacks into the respective agencies with authorities to investigate to verify the identities of the happy buyers of equipment from Otsego County.

It is clearly a big question why FOIL requests that could be easily and effortlessly satisfied by a printout to a PDF file and by sending it (for free) to an e-mail address (as I requested), Otsego County, after a 5-months' "legal review" by its County Attorney Ellen Coccoma, (1) blocked records pertaining to Ellen Coccoma herself, and (2) wasted postage and paper on a FOIL request that could be satisfied without postage and paper.

As to denial of some cell phone numbers and e-mail addresses, here is yet another opinion of the Committee for the Open Government, dated June 29, 1994 and issued by the Executive Director of the Committee Robert Freeman, states that Freedom of Information Law creates a presumption of access to the records, unless records fall into one of the exceptions provided for in Public Officers Law 87(2)(a) through (g).  Finding it also required only the time to type "basis for denial" into the search window of the FOIL advisory opinions index on the website of the New York State Commission for the Open Government.

The Otsego County Records Officer Carol McGovern, who New York law allows to be held personally responsible for attorney fees if sued for withholding records that must be released, pointed (obviously, after a "legal review" by Ellen Coccoma) only at the root section and subsection, Public Officers Law 87(2) as a basis for denial, but not at the exact subsection which she used to deny me access to cell phone numbers and e-mails of "law enforcement and emergency personnel".

Here is Public Officers Law 87, subd. 2 - in its entirety:

 2. Each agency shall, in accordance with  its  published  rules,  make
  available  for  public  inspection  and copying all records, except that
  such agency may deny access to records or portions thereof that:
    (a) are specifically exempted from  disclosure  by  state  or  federal
    (b)  if disclosed would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal
  privacy under the provisions of subdivision two of  section  eighty-nine
  of this article;
    (c)  if  disclosed would impair present or imminent contract awards or
  collective bargaining negotiations;
    (d) are trade secrets or are submitted to an agency  by  a  commercial
  enterprise  or  derived  from  information  obtained  from  a commercial
  enterprise and which if disclosed would cause substantial injury to  the
  competitive position of the subject enterprise;
    (e) are compiled for law enforcement purposes and which, if disclosed,
    i.   interfere   with   law  enforcement  investigations  or  judicial

    ii. deprive a  person  of  a  right  to  a  fair  trial  or  impartial
    iii.   identify   a   confidential  source  or  disclose  confidential
  information relating to a criminal investigation; or
    iv. reveal criminal investigative  techniques  or  procedures,  except
  routine techniques and procedures;
    (f) if disclosed could endanger the life or safety of any person;
    (g) are inter-agency or intra-agency materials which are not:
    i. statistical or factual tabulations or data;
    ii. instructions to staff that affect the public;
    iii. final agency policy or determinations;
    iv.  external audits, including but not limited to audits performed by
  the comptroller and the federal government; or
    (h) are examination questions or answers which are requested prior  to
  the final administration of such questions.
    (i)  if  disclosed,  would  jeopardize the capacity of an agency or an
  entity that has shared information  with  an  agency  to  guarantee  the
  security  of its information technology assets, such assets encompassing
  both electronic information systems and infrastructures; or
    * (j) are photographs, microphotographs, videotape or  other  recorded
  images  prepared  under  authority of section eleven hundred eleven-a of
  the vehicle and traffic law.
    * NB Repealed December 1, 2014
    * (k) are photographs, microphotographs, videotape or  other  recorded
  images  prepared  under  authority of section eleven hundred eleven-b of
  the vehicle and traffic law.
    * NB Repealed December 1, 2014
    * (l) are photographs, microphotographs, videotape or  other  recorded
  images  produced  by a bus lane photo device prepared under authority of
  section eleven hundred eleven-c of the vehicle and traffic law.
    * NB Repealed September 20, 2015
    * (m) are photographs, microphotographs, videotape or  other  recorded
  images  prepared  under the authority of section eleven hundred eighty-b
  of the vehicle and traffic law.
    * NB Repealed August 30, 2018

So, which one of the exceptions listed in subsection 2 - none of which applies - did Otsego County mean?  Nobody knows, because Otsego County denied me access to cell phone numbers and e-mail addresses of law enforcement and emergency personnel without any explanation whatsoever as to which subsection of Subdivision 2 is the basis for the denial, and that is not a valid reason for the denial of my presumed right of access.

I do not know also which employees Otsego County chose to group under "law enforcement and emergency" personnel, which is yet another problem.  Their names may be the point of disclosure in a lawsuit.

Here are lists of cell phone numbers and e-mail addresses of Otsego County employees (still not disclosed on the Otsego County website) that I did receive.  I publish it as a matter of my public service as a citizen journalist to the public of Otsego County and beyond.  Area code is (607), I presume.  I publish the records as I received them.  I will try to verify with the County what are the first three digits of cell phone numbers on the top of pages where they are not indicated.  

The first name on the list is Theresa Lombardo, and her phone number is 4262, the first 3 digits not provided, and the same for phone numbers of people listed underneath her, up until the "Public Health Director cell phone".    

I will have to file an administrative FOIL appeal for that information.

Now, if the "assigned phone numbers" are assigned cell phone numbers, as I requested in my FOIL request, Otsego County pays for cell phones of its 291 officers and employees, some of them attorneys with a private practice on the side, such as:

  • Michael Getman;

  • Ellen Coccoma, 

- and that is only what I spotted now, without in-depth analysis.

Please, note that Michael Getman, the "Chief Assistant District Attorney" of Otsego County does not mention that in his official attorney registration, but mentions his private business.

Please, note that Ellen Coccoma, wife of the Chief Administrative Judge for upstate New York, does not mention in her official attorney registration that she is a full-time employee of Otsego County, but that she is an attorney for Hinman, Howard & Kattel, LLP.

Apparently, for these "public servants", their private businesses are more important than their government-paid jobs.

Illustratively, after 5 months instead of 5 days (as provided by law) of "legal review", Ellen Coccoma did not provide me copies of HER OWN time-sheets that I requested for certain dates.  I wonder what was there so damaging to her that she is defying the law and abusing her position as Otsego County attorney to deny me my FOIL request.

As to cell phones for 291 Otsego County employees, as a citizen, I wonder - whether to pay for cell phones of such a number of employees is a necessary expense for a small and poor rural county where people cannot afford county taxes to the point that there is an ongoing foreclosure crisis and controversy.  

People are losing homes to pay for cell phones of OVER 291 County employees (remember, the 291 presumably cell phone numbers are not a complete list of cell phone numbers Otsego County pays for, cell phones of "law enforcement" and "emergency" personnel were not disclosed).

I wonder what kind of cell phones are assigned to those officers and employees ("smart" or "dumb", the brands), which cell phone operator or operators is/are used, which cell phone plans are used, how much data on those cell phones, whether there are overages on the data plans on the county-assigned cell phones.

Recently, the New York State Comptroller's audit found out that Delaware County Social Services did not track use county-assigned vehicles by county officers and employees.

I wonder if Otsego County tracks the use of county-assigned cell phones and whether they are used for purposes that has nothing to do with County business, for officers and employees' own personal or private business matters.

And, here is the list of e-mail addresses (those that Otsego County disclosed to me, with the exception of e-mail addresses of "law enforcement" and "emergency personnel", what that is):

If any numbers or names are not clear from the scanned copy, please, e-mail me at, I will clarify if it is more visible on my paper copy.

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