CASE SUMMARY: NJFOG v. Lawrence Township Board of Education

 

Case Name:  NJFOG v. Lawrence Township Board of Education
Docket Number:  MER-L-1831-16
County / Vicinage:  Mercer
Filing Date:  September 12, 2016
Presiding Judge:   Jacobson, Mary C.
Status:  closed

 

Overview:

The complaint alleges multiple violations of the OPMA and OPRA.

Records Act (OPRA) counts were settled in November 2016 (see documents below), and the Board has paid $2,500 to cover NJFOG’s attorney fees.

Judge Jacobson required the parties to mediate the Meetings Act (OPMA) counts. Mediation failed, however, so the matter will be decided by the Court. NJFOG’s summary judgment motion (see documents below) places the following OPMA counts before the court:  1) Do the Board’s motions or resolutions that authorize its nonpublic (closed or executive) sessions provide enough detail about the topics to be privately discussed?;  2) Are the Board’s nonpublic meeting minutes sufficiently “comprehensible” to satisfy the OPMA? The hearing is scheduled for June 20, 2017.

In a June 21, 2017 Order, Judge Jacobson found the Lawrence Township Board of Ed. in violation of the OPMA and enjoined it from further violations as follows:

Jacobson ordered the Board, going forward, to pass closed session resolutions that “contain as much available information as is consistent with full public knowledge without doing harm to the public interest.” Under this standard, the Board, for example, would need to inform the public that it was going to privately discuss the lawsuit captioned “John Doe v. Lawrence Public Schools, Docket No. MER-L-1234-16” rather than simply telling the public that it was going to privately discuss “legal matters.”

Judge Jacobson also ordered the board, going forward, to “ensure that executive session meeting minutes contain sufficient facts and information to describe what took place at the meeting and what final action was taken in order to permit the public to understand and appraise the reasonableness of the public body’s determination.”

Jacobson footnoted in the Order several court cases that set forth what’s acceptable with regard to closed meeting resolutions and minutes. For resolutions, she cited a 1995 case against the Trenton State College Board of Trustees. With regard to minutes, she cited a case brought by South Jersey Publishing Co. (1991) and the Appellate Division ruling in Burnett v. Gloucester County (2009).

The case is now closed.

 

Case Documents:

Complaint, Brief, Order to Show Cause – NJFOG v. Lawrence Twp BOE:
http://njfog.org/files/2016/10/NJFOG-v-Lawrence-Twp-BOE-complaint-exhs-brief-and-Order-10-3-2016.pdf

Minutes comparison – redacted vs. unredacted – Lawrence Twp BOE:
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B62zIy-MpCRoNTFQUDVaUkU0Yk0/view?usp=sharing

20161130 Order resolving OPRA counts – NJFOG v. Lawrence Twp BOE :
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B62zIy-MpCRoTE5OQlZKb1hnSXM/view?usp=sharing

20170228 NJFOG’s Motion for Summary Judgment – NJFOG v. Lawrence Twp BOE :
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B62zIy-MpCRoVnhrTDBZTlRDWGc/view?usp=sharing

20170405 Defendant’s Opposition to Motion for Summary Judgment – NJFOG v. Lawrence Twp BOE :
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B62zIy-MpCRodllnM2czbWx0YWc/view?usp=sharing

20170408 NJFOG’s Reply to Opposition – NJFOG v. Lawrence BOE
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B62zIy-MpCRoa0x3eDRMTEFHS0U/view?usp=sharing

20170621 Order declaring defendants in violation of the Open Public Meetings Act and enjoining them from further violations of the Act
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B62zIy-MpCRocnU4SlBFSVJXcUE/view?usp=sharing

 

Press Release(s):

Lawrence Twp. Council and Board of Ed. charged with OPMA and OPRA violations
http://njfog.org/2016/10/05/lawrence-twp-council-board-ed-charged-opma-opra-violations/

 

Court finds Lawrence School Board violated OPMA, issues injunction
http://njfog.org/2017/06/22/court-finds-lawrence-school-board-violated-opma-issues-injunction/

 

Articles / Posts:

Lawrence School Board over-redacted its closed meeting minutes (includes link to the minutes comparison under the documents section above)
http://njfog.org/2016/11/17/lawrence-school-board-redacted-closed-meeting-minutes/

 

Judge dings Lawrence school board for violating sunshine laws
http://www.trentonian.com/general-news/20161130/judge-dings-lawrence-school-board-for-violating-sunshine-laws