Amicus brief in the appeal of the Lyndhurst decision, which curtailed access to police records

Groups are lining up against the NJ Appellate Division’s Lyndhurst decision that made virtually all criminal records exempt under OPRA. The case is being appealed to the NJ Supreme Court.  Also see our post, “Fallout of the Appellate Division’s Lyndhurst Ruling”.   -NJFOG

American Society of News Editors (ASNE)
By ASNE staff
(Available online here and re-posted below)

ASNE has joined an amicus brief, drafted by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which pushes back against a truly contorted reading of the New Jersey Open Public Records Act (OPRA). The brief is being filed in the New Jersey Supreme Court in support of the North Jersey Media Group.

Reporters from The Bergen Record and the weekly South Bergenite filed OPRA requests to seek information relating to a police shooting of a 23-year-old male in the county. The New Jersey attorney general’s office had issued a press release that outlines its version of events, but the press release was later countered by the findings of an independent investigator.

The OPRA requests sought several incident reports, documents, reports and transcripts from local, county and state police departments. The requests were denied with the government’s claiming that release of the records would compromise the investigation and undermine witness testimony.

The brief argues that the New Jersey appellate court, which ruled in favor of the government, failed to take into account that the New Jersey OPRA requires agencies to err on the side of openness and access. More importantly, the brief pushes back against a truly dangerous portion of the appellate court’s ruling, which supported the government’s claim that issuing a press release with some information related to the OPRA request fulfills a requirement that certain information concerning a criminal investigation must be made available to the public within 24 hours or as soon as practicable of a request for such information. That is our biggest fear in this case, that a court may sanction the notion that press releases sufficiently inform the public where an open records request is really the only solution.