NEWYORK — A state court ruled Feb. 10 that at least one department ofCornell University, a private institution, is subject to the state’sFreedom of Information Law and therefore must turn over documents related to theschool’s decision to expand field testing of genetically modifiedplants.”[Cornell University officials] were claiming that theentire university was exempt and the courts just don’t seem to see ittheir way so far,” said Jeremy Alderson, a former radio talk show host whorequested the documents in 2000 because he was concerned about the effects theresearch would have on his community.Tompkins County Supreme Court JudgeRobert Mulvey decided that 51 of the 134 documents Cornell handed over inresponse to Alderson’s Freedom of Information request were exemptfrom disclosure. Nineteen of the remaining documents were to be handed over toAlderson in their entirety, while the remaining 64 were to be turned over withsome information redacted or blacked out.”I’m very pleasedthat he’s ordered them to give us some copies and some redacted copies Ithink that’s terrific,” said Diane Campbell, Alderson’sattorney.Cornell has argued from the time of Alderson’s requestthat, being a private institution, it is not subject to the Freedom ofInformation Law. However, New York courts have consistently held thatCornell’s partnership with the State University of New York, a publicinstitution, has made its biotechnology research subject to state law. Courtshave ruled that because Cornell is a private institution performing a publicfunction, it must comply with the law.The case was initially tried inTompkins County before Judge Mulvey. Cornell followed its first unsuccessfulappeal to the state Supreme Court Appellate Division with one to the New YorkCourt of Appeals. The New York Court of Appeals remanded the case to TompkinsCounty, where Judge Mulvey issued his most recent ruling.But the case isnot over, Alderson said.”There’s still a fight to be waged.We don’t believe the redactions that were called for were warranted, sowe’re going to oppose that,” he said. ”It’s a long haul.It’s just going back up the court ladder. We’ve been fighting thisfor years. We’ve got a ways to go.”Alderson plans oncontinuing the legal battle to obtain access to other related records that werenot included in the 134 submissions Cornell made to the court. The issue of themissing documentation was raised at trial, but the judge did not rule on thatissue, Alderson said. ”This is a major victory. But it’s nota final victory, and that’s what counts,” Aldersonadded.Linda Grace-Kobas, a Cornell University spokeswoman, told TheIthaca Journal that it is unclear whether Cornell willappeal.
Read previous coverage
- N.Y. court won’t hear appeal of Cornell Univ. access case The Report, Spring 2003
- Cornell loses appeal in open-records case The Report, Spring 2002