New York’s highest court has agreed to hear an appeal from the Empire Center for New York State Policy of lower court rulings in favor of decisions by the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System and the New York City Teachers’ Retirement System not to release the names of pension recipients.
The Court of Appeals also said it would accept an amicus brief in support of the Empire Center’s position from major news organizations including Gannett Co. Inc., which owns The Journal News, the Albany Times Union, Auburn Citizen, Buffalo News, Hearst Corp., New York Daily News, New York News Publishers Association, New York Post, New York Press Association, New York Times Co., Newsday LLC and the Observer-Dispatch.
The court’s decision is “a ray of hope for public transparency in New York State,” Timothy Hoefer, executive director of the fiscally conservative Empire Center, said in a statement.
It’s unusual for the Court of Appeals to grant leave to appeal in cases decided unanimously by the Appellate Division, he noted. “We remain confident that the court will validate the public’s right to know how public pension funds are spent,” he said.
The Teachers’ Retirement System denied the Empire Center’s January 2012 Freedom of Information Law request for the list of pension recipients. The Empire Center lists pension and other data on its SeeThroughNY.net website.
The Teachers’ Retirement System previously released the names of pension recipients, but it is now withholding it due to a 2011 ruling by the Appellate Division in Manhattan, which upheld the New York City Police Pension Fund‘s refusal to release the information to the Empire Center.
The Appellate Division justices ruled that they felt bound to uphold the Teachers’ Retirement System’s action because of a 1983 Court of Appeals decision that upheld the denial of a Freedom of Information Law request for the names and addresses of retired police officers. That case was also cited in the police pension case.
The lower court decisions don’t distinguish between the public’s right to know the names of retirees and the names of their beneficiaries, according to the Empire Center. The latter has never been considered public information.