Judge says releasing letter about Konasiewicz was ‘in the public interest’A St. Louis County deputy medical examiner’s letter to the state medical board requesting an investigation into Dr. Stefan Konasiewicz was released only after a judge granted a petition by the News Tribune to make the information public.
A St. Louis County deputy medical examiner’s letter to the state medical board requesting an investigation into Dr. Stefan Konasiewicz was released only after a judge granted a petition by the News Tribune to make the information public.
The News Tribune requested the letter from the St. Louis County Attorney’s office, which had refused to release it, saying that correspondence sent to the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice is private under state law.
However, a provision in Minnesota’s statutes on medical examiner data allows for a judge to release what is considered private data if it’s determined to be “in the public interest.” The newspaper argued that releasing the letter would be in the public interest because of the harm Konasiewicz was alleged to have caused.
At a hearing before Judge Eric Hylden, assistant St. Louis County Attorney Kimberly Maki argued that any data and records sent to the medical board should be private, even copies of those records kept by her office or by Dr. Donald Kundel, who was deputy medical examiner when the letter was sent in 2008.
The News Tribune’s attorney, Mark Anfinson, argued that providing data to the medical board shouldn’t automatically make any copy of it private.
In his ruling released on Sept. 9, Hylden agreed.
“A party cannot make a document confidential simply by sending the original to a licensing agency,” he wrote.
“The court will apply … the public interest standard to the letter as a whole and find that disclosure is in the public interest.”
Anfinson, who has practiced media law for more than 25 years, said this is the first time he’s aware of that data was released through successful use of the provision in the medical examiner’s statute.
“I think a lot of the reason this succeeded was the paper demonstrated through prior reporting how important this issue is to the community,” he said. “I’m convinced the judge saw this is as a piece of that issue.”