- Associated Press - Friday, March 18, 2016

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - A federal judge ruled Friday that a legal services group can review complete investigative records of abuse of the disabled and mentally ill in New York state care.

U.S. District Judge Gary Sharpe rejected arguments by the Cuomo administration and its Justice Center that they were allowed to withhold related records and delete information before they gave Disability Rights New York completed reports. The administration removed the names of staff accused of abuse or neglect, people who filed the complaints and witnesses, as well as clinical records.

The Justice Center was established to investigate abuse statewide in 2013 in response to ongoing incidents at state and nonprofit facilities.

After repeated requests for information were denied, Disability Rights sued to obtain it in four cases, involving residents abused at state facilities for the mentally ill, disabled youths and disabled adults and a mentally ill prison inmate who killed himself.

“The court agrees that (Disability Rights) is authorized to review complete, unredacted records from the Justice Center, which must be provided in accordance with the required time lines,” Sharpe wrote. “Defendants fail to explain why a description of such an alleged incident should not include the identity of any individuals involved in, or witness to, the incident.”

Sharpe wrote that the Justice Center has interfered with Disability Rights’ mandate to protect and advocate on behalf of people with mental illness and developmental disabilities, particularly its mandate to investigate abuse. Records can’t be withheld based on their confidential nature since Disability Rights has a federal duty also to protect confidentiality, he wrote.

The Justice Center declined to comment on pending litigation. Sharpe’s ruling Friday rejected its request to dismiss the ongoing lawsuit. The state agency argued to the judge that the state laws under which it was established are consistent with the federal laws and limit record access to only the completed and redacted reports.

“We are very pleased with this decision, and the judge made clear that DRNY is entitled to the records that it seeks,” Executive Director Tim Clune said. “The Justice Center should stop obstructing us in our job.”

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