By Eli Sherman
In 2002, Judge Damon Keith of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit said, “When a government begins closing doors, it selectively controls information rightfully belonging to the people.” The judge’s words, although used to describe secret deportation hearings in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, are applicable to any dispute between government and its people over the right to records.
The Waltham News Tribune and its parent company — GateHouse Media — recently appealed the Middlesex County District Attorney’s decision to deny a public records request for details about murder suspect Jared Remy’s assault case in Waltham, Mass.
Remy — son of Boston Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy — was arrested and charged with assaulting his girlfriend Jennifer Martel on Aug. 13. The next day he was arraigned at Waltham District Court and released on his own recognizance with the condition he do no harm to Martel. Less than 48 hours later, he was arrested and charged with murdering Martel.
Homicides in the Boston area usually make headlines, but when the alleged killer is the son of a local celebrity, the attention intensifies. It was quickly discovered that the younger Remy was no stranger to Waltham District Court, a place he’d appeared for 15 complaints since 1998. Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan, who did not personally try Remy in his assault case, came under heavy criticism following Martel’s death.
In response to the criticism, she launched an “independent review” into the circumstances surrounding the release of Remy from his Aug. 14 arraignment. The review was conducted by Norfolk First Assistant District Attorney Jeanmarie Carroll and retired Essex District Attorney Kevin Burke. Ryan, who commissioned the review, became the custodian of all information found by the two investigators. Given her ultimate control over the end product, it’s this reporter’s opinion that the DA shouldn’t have claimed the review independent.
In an Aug. 21 press release, Ryan touted the backgrounds of both Burke and Carroll, detailing their history in domestic violence cases and establishing legislative policies. One would be hard pressed to argue the duo’s experience in the field, but Ryan could’ve chosen from an endless list of lawyers and judges — both active and retired — to conduct the review without having a direct connection to the offices of Massachusetts’ district attorneys.
The report was finished Dec. 13 and released Dec. 18 with an announcement of a joint press conference with Burke and Ryan. It was released as a five-paragraph executive summary, which found weakness in the DA’s “training, supervision, or handling of domestic violence cases,” especially at the pre-arraignment stage.
In the case of Remy, the investigators noted that there wasn’t enough attention given to his violent history or to the fact that there was a young child at home. The then-4-year-old daughter of Remy and Martel was home when her mother was killed.
I — with the support of my editor Paul Crocetti and editor-in-chief Jesse Floyd — filed a public records request on Jan. 8 through my paper, the Waltham News Tribune, for the review to be released in its entirety.
The request was denied by Ryan’s office five days later.
In the spirit of transparency and the 1st Amendment, the Waltham News Tribune and its parent company, GateHouse Media, on Feb. 12 appealed the DA’s decision.
Our attorney, Michael Grygiel, argued in the appeal that the DA’s office was trying to shield itself behind a wall of extraneous investigatory exemptions.
“Hiding behind conclusory generalities, the DA’s contention that the investigatory exemption applies here lacks any merit whatsoever. It should be rejected, and the full report should be disclosed immediately,” Grygiel wrote.
Our publisher, Chuck Goodrich, also called on Ryan to release the report, saying the public deserved comprehensive answers.
“We feel strongly that the public deserves a complete explanation of why Jared Remy was released, particularly in view of the tragedy that followed so soon afterward,” Goodrich said. “The stonewalling and lack of transparency from the DA’s office is unacceptable coming from our public servants, particularly in an election year. We will continue to pursue our options to have the report made public, and are confident that the law is on our side.”
We don’t deny the possibility — in fact we hope — the executive summary released by Ryan’s office accurately reflected the entire report, but we demand the opportunity to make the determination ourselves.
Eli is a reporter for the Waltham News Tribune.