Colts Neck files “first strike” suit in OPRA matter

UPDATE (Sept. 14, 2016):  Colts Neck has had a change of heart regarding its lawsuit to have the records declared not public. They have decided to not pursue the lawsuit and have produced the records.

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Colts Neck Township has filed a declaratory action seeking a court ruling as to whether a report relating to an investigation into the police chief’s activities is public. These “first strike” lawsuits against records requestors were the subject of several cases in the last year with mixed court opinions. The matter is currently before the NJ Supreme Court (Carter v. NJ State Firemen’s Association). The Township sought a delay in responding to the records request until the high court issued its ruling.

The request in question concerns the municipal police chief’s alleged failure to obtain proper approval for his attendance at a 2015 law enforcement conference, failure to use vacation time, and calling an on-duty police officer to drive him home from the airport. The APP article notes that the chief’s disciplinary hearing, interestingly, was public at his own request.

This type of declaratory judgment action by governmental agencies is heavily criticized by public advocacy organizations, who view it as an attempt to thwart the OPRA law. The move pits an agency’s vast resources against the those of the individual requestor, who in many cases cannot wage a court battle to obtain records that often should have been disclosed in the first place. Senator Loretta Weinberg is paying attention and has stated that she will consider including a provision in S1046 (OPRA modernization bill) that prohibits the practice.

 

 

Colts Neck stall on APP records request widely panned
Asbury Park Press | APP.com
by Bob Jordan
Sept. 9, 2016

 

Related articles here:

http://njfog.org/2015/07/01/middlesex-county-court-rules-only-a-records-requestor-can-sue-under-opra/

http://njfog.org/2015/06/04/appellate-court-to-rule-on-who-can-file-an-opra-lawsuit/

http://njfog.org/2015/02/18/njpa-court-brief-challenges-public-agencys-right-sue-opra/