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Jodi Rell License Plate Situation Under Review

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Governor M. Jodi Rell (Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)

Governor M. Jodi Rell (Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)

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HARTFORD, CT (AP / WCBS 880) - Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy‘s legal counsel was reviewing Monday whether a top aide to the governor violated privacy laws by releasing to a columnist a list of low-number license plates, including many issued to former Gov. M. Jodi Rell and her supporters.

WCBS 880 Connecticut Bureau Chief Fran Schneidau on the fallout

Colleen Flanagan, a spokeswoman for the new governor, said Monday it is not certain that Senior Advisor Roy Occhiogrosso broke the law. Andrew McDonald, the legal counsel, is looking into “the competing interests of the Freedom of Information Act with the motor vehicle statutes.” However, she said Malloy “believes the release of that information resulted from a breakdown of communication within the office.”

Malloy said over the weekend that if a mistake was made in releasing the list to Hartford Courant columnist Kevin Rennie, who printed the names and license plate numbers in his blog, the recipients of the coveted low-numbered plates could be reimbursed for their vehicle registration fee, typically $75 for a passenger car, and issued new license plates.

“If anyone was inconvenienced by this, the governor and his office obviously apologize,” said Flanagan, adding the governor has no plans to discipline his aides.

State Republican Chairman Chris Healy said the chief state’s attorney should investigate whether Malloy’s administration violated the state’s privacy law, which prevents “any officer, employee, agent or contractor” of the Department of Motor Vehicles from releasing the information, with some exceptions. Violators can face a misdemeanor. Meanwhile, those who are qualified to receive the information must fill out a records request form. Violators of the federal law can face civil liability.

“If Kevin Kane has been reading the papers the last few days, he would know there are strict guidelines that are laid out in the law to obtain this information and if someone does it to this degree . he would probably want to look into it,” said Healy, referring to the chief state’s attorney.

A spokesman for Kane said he could not comment on whether or not the prosecutor plans to investigate.

Occhiogrosso told The Associated Press on Friday that Rennie recently called him, asking for help in getting information about dozens of coveted low-number license plates issued to Rell and others. Occhiogrosso said he did not know the information was protected by privacy laws and asked Chief of Staff Tim Bannon to get the list from the DMV to fulfill a request for information from a journalist.

“In my request for the information, I thought I was responding to an appropriate inquiry from a journalist,” Bannon told the AP. He said he did not recall any warning from DMV about keeping the information private and said he did not warn Occhiogrosso, who ultimately forwarded the list to Rennie, about any need to keep the list private.

Asked whether he believed it was legal for Occhiogrosso to pass on the information to the columnist, Bannon said: “I can only say that this was an oversight and an honest mistake. It will not happen again.”

William Seymour, a spokesman for the DMV, said last week the agency occasionally updates a list of the one-, two-, and three-digit plates. The license plates are prized by many people with political connections because they stand out from regular plates given the few digits. Seymour said it was legal for DMV to share the information with the governor’s office because everyone involved is considered to be part of the state of Connecticut.

The federal Driver Privacy Protection Act was first passed in 1994 after drivers’ personal information was misused in several cases, including that of the late actress Rebecca Schaeffer who was stalked and killed in 1989.

 (Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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