The House Redress of Grievances Committee decided to try out its new subpoena power last week.
On Thursday, the committee, which was resurrected by O'Brien for the 2011-12 legislative session to hear complaints from citizens, voted to subpoena "sealed records" in the case of David Johnson, who has long fought for custody of his daughter.
The committee has largely heard complaints from parents over child safety or child support, and the House voted earlier this session to give the committee subpoena power to compel state workers or others involved in the cases to testify before the committee or produce records.
The vote to subpoena the records was 9-3, along party lines, said Rep. Tim Horrigan, a Durham Democrat who voted against the subpoena. Horrigan said his understanding is the subpoena is intended to uncover "exculpatory evidence that basically proves that (Johnson's) a fit father" from the guardian ad litem assigned to the case.
Republican Rep. Robert Willette, vice chairman of the committee, said the subpoena must still be approved by the House Rules Committee, which is chaired by O'Brien, and then the speaker's office will handle serving the subpoena.
In April, Attorney General Michael Delaney, whose agency has been monitoring the committee's activity, sent a letter to O'Brien accusing the panel of showing a bias against state workers that could threaten the safety of at-risk children. Delaney also raised additional concerns about the subpoenas compelling people to testify or produce records before the committee.
"Child protection matters are subject to strict confidentiality requirements," Delaney wrote. "State officials will be placed in the unenviable position of having to decide whether to honor a legislative subpoena or adhere to the laws of confidentiality."
Associate Attorney General Anne Edwards said Friday that the decision on whether to produce records sought by legislative subpoenas could likely end up in the attorney general's office, which represents the courts and state workers in legal matters.
"Just because somebody has the right to subpoena records, it doesn't mean that right is absolute," Edwards said. "We will be responding appropriately with respect to those confidentiality concerns."
From the Concord Monitor (6/17/12)