Tuesday, July 27, 2010

New records lawsuit: Paff v. South Bound Brook

On July 9, 2010, I filed a lawsuit against the Borough of South Bound Brook (Somerset County) seeking disclosure of records of a police investigation involving the "Mayor's wife's family." I am being represented by Walter Luers, Esq. of Oxford.

My lawsuit, along with my records requests and pre-suit correspondence with Borough Clerk Donald Kazar and Borough Attorney William Cooper are on-line here.

I originally learned of the police investigation that is at the heart of this lawsuit by reading Robert Verry's (former South Bound Brook police chief) postings on the NJ.com forums. When I learned that the Borough intended to charge Mr. Verry $375 to redact the police records related to the police investigation, I made a records request for a narrow subset of the same records Mr. Verry had requested. I had hoped that for little or no cost, I would be able to obtain records that would confirm or refute Mr. Verry's suspicions that information about this police investigation was being intentionally suppressed. (See Mr. Verry's Post 3180. "How much are YOU willing to spend?" 19:45 ET)

In my May 24, 2010 records request, I stated: "This is a perfect example of a situation I've encountered many times: Where a government agency's apparent stonewalling raises a public perception that something is being covered up. . . . In my experience in similar cases, when the records are finally made available, it often becomes evident that there was no cover-up. The net results, however, are a) the taxpayers have paid their agency's lawyer (and perhaps the requestor's lawyer) substantial legal fees arising out of the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) enforcement action and b) every agency official has needlessly lived under a cloud of suspicion that they or a member of their family were the target of a police investigation."

In his May 24, 2010 e-mail, Mr. Kazar candidly revealed that "the investigation involved the Mayor's Wife's family but the Prosecutor's found no case" (p. 3 of the PDF file at the above link). Then, in his June 14, 2010 denial of my request, Mr. Cooper provided me with a two-page index of the records to which I was being denied access (pp. 33-34).

At this point, it was apparent to me that a member of the Mayor's wife's family was involved in an investigation that produced approximately 25 investigative records, including 25 pages of photographs, a 9-page "evidence chain of custody form" and investigation reports filed by two police officers, one police sergeant and one police lieutenant.

I don't know what happened or who or what was being investigated. (A former member of the South Bound Brook Council, however, recently asked a question at a Council meeting regarding a "rumor" that she heard. See the second video here starting at the 7min 15sec mark.)

I do believe, however, that the public's interest in knowing who was investigated, the nature of investigation and the reasons that the prosecutor chose not to file charges is greater than the Borough's interest in keeping this matter confidential.

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