On November 22, 2011, Montclair attorney Richard Gutman filed an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) lawsuit on my behalf against the New Jersey State Firemen's Association (NJSFA). The civil complaint, as well as an order to show cause and brief in Paff v. New Jersey State Firemen's Association, Docket No. UNN-L-4371-11, are on-line here.
Although it received over $24 million in tax dollars during 2010 and distributed over $11 million of that amount to its 538 local firemen's relief associations, most members of the public know little or nothing about the NJSFA. The NJSFA receives a percentage of taxes New Jersey levies against out-of-state insurance companies. With that money, it provides for the care of indigent, injured and deceased firefighters. The NJSFA and its local relief associations serve over 76,000 career and volunteer firefighters.
On September 26, 2011, I filed an OPRA request with the NJSFA. Among other records, I asked for documents revealing how much, if any, past members of the NJSFA's Executive Committee were receiving in pension benefits. In its response to my OPRA request, the NJSFA stated that it "has never considered itself bound by the [Open Public Records] Act." Accordingly, my request for the pension records was denied.
Mr. Gutman and I disagree with the NJSFA's position and believe that it is an OPRA "public agency" because it was created by the New Jersey Legislature or by municipal fire departments back in the 1800's. Either way, we believe that it's a "public agency" under OPRA because, as stated in N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1.1, it was "created by the Legislative Branch" or it was "created by a . . . combination of political subdivisions [of the State]."
The matter has been set down for a hearing on January 6, 2012 at 9 a.m. before Union County Superior Court Judge Regina Caulfield at 2 Broad Street, Elizabeth. The hearing is open to the public, but interested citizens should call the court at 908-659-4810 the day before the hearing to make sure that it hasn't been postponed.
John Paff, Chairman
New Jersey Libertarian Party's
Open Government Advocacy Project