THIS BLOG POST IS ONE OF SEVERAL GUEST EDITORIALS THAT WILL BE PUBLISHED DURING SUNSHINE WEEK, HIGHLIGHTING THE NEED FOR MORE GOVERNMENT TRANSPARENCY.
Author: Louise Andrus
A little over a year ago another person and I filed our first case with the Merrimack County Superior Court as pro ses. You should understand that neither one of us had any idea what we were doing. We just felt our school district school board and the SAU had violated and continued to violate the Right-to-Know Law (RSA 91-A).
The case was filed and to our surprise we received an Objection to Dismiss from the Defendants. We were really in trouble as we had no idea what to do. We had included so many possible violations in the original case filing that whomever read it must have had a good laugh. One night I went on to the internet and came across the group Right to Know NH (RTKNH). I contacted them and and one of it’s members provided assistance in helping to navigate the legal process. David Taylor, a member of RTKNH kept us out of trouble and helped us keep our case on track in Court. We fed him information and he helped us amend our Petition.
David Taylor helped us through the whole case with replies needed, dates to be met, and what had to be sent to court and the defendants. He was literally our “Knight in Shining Armor.” We had to ask for a delay, the defendants were not cooperative about evidence, and there were a number of 17 mile one-way trips to Concord to file paperwork with the Court.
As for our day in Court, that was quite an experience for me as I had never been in a court room before in my life. I argued our case. The school board and SAU were found guilty of violating the Right-to-Know law. In our case we also claimed that public meetings were not audible. However, the judge ruled that I did not prove that violation. Therefore, after losing the audible portion of the case, every school board meeting I went to I took notes of people I could not hear in the meeting and what subject was being discussed. Then every month I would write to all 11 school board members and provided a list showing who I could not hear during the meeting. Today we have microphones at the school board meeting and we can hear all the school board discussions.
Would I do it again? Yes, I would as nothing bothers me more than public officials or public employees disobeying NH laws.
I am currently in a new case as pro se but not for violation of the Right-to-Know law. I am still a novice, but when I read a NH law and feel it has been violated, I have to find a way to cure the violation. For a citizen it usually means going to Superior Court. Many times NH agencies do not help citizens with a violation of the law. And for myself, I cannot afford an attorney. Therefore my only option is to go to court and represent myself pro se. After the first time going to court, it gets easier.
Louise Andrus is a member of Right to Know New Hampshire and a resident of Salisbury. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org