Raritan Borough owes media company $542,000 in public-records fight, court fact-finder says

NJFOG President Walter Luers is quoted in this article about Gannett Media’s lawsuit concerning access to records in a usable electronic format.  Generally, a requestor has a right to a document or record in its native format.  For example, if a record was created in Excel, you can request the Excel spreadsheet.  -NJFOG

Asbury Park Press
Feb. 6, 2014
by Sergio Bichao
(full article in APP archive here.)

A court-appointed fact finder has recommended that a judge order this Somerset County municipality to pay the Gannett New Jersey media company a record-breaking $542,000 in legal fees as a result of a public records lawsuit.

The precedent-setting case, which the company won in August 2012, determined that the public is entitled to obtain public records in electronic formats that can be easily analyzed, as opposed to PDF formats or paper printouts.

Gannett first filed the lawsuit in 2009…

Walter Luers, an attorney specializing in public records law, said Gannett’s case is important because many public agencies are turning to third-party companies to handle their public records. He said records easily can be provided in electronic formats other than PDF.

On the other hand, the potential legal-fees award runs the risk of providing certain lawmakers with an excuse to neuter the law.

“I blame the town. This is just absurd,” Luers said Wednesday. “This was a municipality out of control. It was a municipal lawyer fighting for the sake of fighting. My view of OPRA is that it is more cost effective to give people the documents rather than risking legal fees.”

Continue reading here (APP paid archive).