Saturday, February 28, 2009

Decision in Paff v. Penns Grove

On February 10, 2009, Assignment Judge Georgia M. Curio issued a written opinion in my OPRA and OPMA case against the Borough of Penns Grove in Salem County. I was represented by Walter M. Luers.

The opinion and the closed session resolutions, revised closed session resolutions and redacted closed session meeting minutes are on-line here. All other case documents are on-line here.

In sum, Judge Curio ruled that:

a. There were "certain errors" in the resolutions that authorized the Borough Council's May 14, 2008 and May 20, 2008 executive sessions. But, the Borough Council, on November 18, 2008--well after my suit was filed--passed more descriptive resolutions that "cured" these errors. Given the Borough Council's curative resolutions, the Court declined to issue an injunction requiring the Borough Council pass sufficiently descriptive resolutions going forward.

b. That the resolutions that authorized the Council's April 1, 2008, April 15, 2008 and June 4, 2008 executive sessions were sufficiently specific.

c. After looking at the unredacted minutes (i.e. an in camera inspection), the Court held that much of the material redacted from the executive session minutes was properly redacted. But, the court also held that certain information was not lawfully redacted and ordered disclosure of: a) the names of the employees discussed on April 15, 2008, May 6, 2008, May 20, 2008 and the name of the litigation discussed on May 20, 2008. (On February 19, 2008 the lawyer for Penns Grove, Adam I. Telsey, informed me that a) the employees discussed on April 15, 2008 were Till Lerro, Jose Rosario and Vass Wiggins; b) that the employees discussed on May 6, 2008 were Till Lerro and Police Chief Gary Doubledee and c) that the litigation discussed on May 20, 2008 was USA v. Salem County, et al, Docket no. 08-CV-03726.)

d. The the way in which the Borough Clerk explained why the redactions were made, while "exceedingly brief" (i.e. statements such as "ongoing negotiations" and "ongoing potential litigation") met the "minimum requirement" of notice when they were read together with the headings above the redacted parts of the closed session minutes.

e. No civil penalties are to be assessed against the Clerk for knowingly and willfully violating the Open Public Records Act.

f. Our complaint was filed within the applicable 45-day statute of limitations.

We have not yet decided whether or not to appeal, and we will have 45 days from the date the court enters an order memorializing its decision (which hasn't happened yet) within which to file an appeal.

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey

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