“Here, the entire police investigation for which the government data under consideration was collected or created had ‘connection, relation, or reference’ to an allegation that (Hoffner) used his children to engage in a sexual performance in violation (of the law),” Jass said in her ruling.
“Because all data collected or created by police in their investigation of (Hoffner) has ‘connection, relation, or reference’ to the allegation that (Hoffner) sexually abused his children, all of the investigative data is classified as ‘private’ under (the statute).”
Jass cited the First Amendment again in her decision to keep the case sealed. There was no evidence to show Hoffner had harmed his children, so the large amount of personal information gathered about Hoffner and his family should remain private, she said. Not sealing it would impede on the Hoffners’ right to free speech.
In its motion to have some of the information released, The Free Press argued that information could shed light on the actions taken by the university, investigators and prosecutors against Hoffner. Minnesota’s Data Practices Act should make information about the operations of public institutions open to the public, the argument said.
“Few proceedings in the recent history of Blue Earth County, and arguably even in the entire state, have raised more public concerns and questions about the operations of our public institutions than has the case of State v. Hoffner, especially given how the case ended,” Free Press attorney Mark Anfinson said in his motion. “Many of these questions and concerns still linger, unanswered, and there are now few options available by which to obtain answers except for the records collected by government officials during the course of the investigation that occurred.”
Jass cited a Supreme Court ruling that individual rights should be considered when considering the public’s right to government information.