Thursday, October 20, 2011

OPRA response "The prosecutor said we couldn't release it"

Have you ever made an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for local police records only to be told, "We asked the county prosecutor about your request and he or she said that we must deny it."? If the prosecutor really did say that, then he or she violated a 2006 consent order entered in the case of Deborah Jacobs v. Peter C. Harvey, et al, Docket No. L-3119-04.

I learned about this consent order after Walter Luers and I recently filed a lawsuit in Camden County. One of the defendants, the Borough of Gibbsboro, claimed that they couldn't release a police record because the county prosecutor told them not to. After we sued both Gibbsboro and the Camden County Prosecutor, the prosecutor informed us of the consent order.

Paragraph 1 of that consent order, which is available on-line here states that in "applying the standards set forth in OPRA and any other applicable law, each municipality shall exercise its own discretion in determining whether to release documents sought through OPRA." According to the Camden Prosecutor's brief, which is also available at the link, ever since the consent order was entered, they have "expressly refrained from providing direction or legal advice to municipalities on OPRA issues, other than to suggest how the Prosecutor's Office might respond if a request was made to its OPRA Coordinator."

So, if a local clerk or police department tells you that they can't release records because of advice given by the prosecutor, send them a copy of the consent order and tell them to seek advice from the municipal lawyer.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

OPMA case filed in Gloucester County

On October 6, 2011, an Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) case was filed in Gloucester County Superior Court. Cheryl Potter, a local resident, brought the suit against each member of the Elk Township Committee. Potter is being represented by John W. Trimble, Jr., Esq. of Trimble & Armano of Turnersville.

In her verified complaint, Potter alleges that the Township Committee discussed topics during its April 19, 2010, May 18, 2010 and April 12. 2011 closed session that ought to have been discussed in public. Potter's suit seeks "an injunction prohibiting Defendants from any future violations of the OPMA by discussing budget matters in closed session." She also seeks the court's in camera review of all minutes, transcripts and audio or video recordings of Township Committee closed sessions held during 2010 and 2011.

The verified complaint in the case, Potter v. Pantaleo et al, Docket No. GLO-L-1739-11, is on-line here. An order to show cause hearing should be scheduled soon.

Hearing this Friday: Curious incident involving Voorhees Police

On the evening of December 30, 2009, several alarmed citizens called 911 to report that a civilian female was beating up a uniformed Voorhees police officer who was in his patrol car in the Borough of Gibbsboro (Camden County). The audio of those phone calls, as well as police communications regarding this incident are on-line here.

Further investigation revealed that the officer allegedly being beaten was Voorhees Police Officer Richard Taylor and that alleged female assailant was his wife Tracy Taylor. After the incident, Gibbsboro Patrolman Ryan E. Marrlow filed simple assault charges against Ms. Taylor. Those charges were later dismissed.

I heard rumors that a) Officer Taylor had violated police regulations by conducting personal business in Gibbsboro immediately prior to the incident instead of being on duty in Voorhees and b) officials in both Gibbsboro and Voorhees may have not properly investigated Taylor's conduct regarding this incident. In order to test the veracity of this information, I requested records from Gibbsboro, Voorhees and Camden County.

Not surprisingly, I was denied access to many of the records I sought including a) the radio transmission that Officer Taylor made during or immediately after the incident, b) Taylor's "shift log" showing his activity immediately prior to and after the incident, c) mobile data transmissions between other Voorhees police regarding the incident and d) the incident report prepared by Gibbsboro Police.

OPRA attorney Walter Luers filed a lawsuit on my behalf against Voorhees Township and Gibbsboro Borough as well as members of the Camden County Prosecutor's Office and Officer Taylor and his wife. (Paff v. Borough of Gibbsboro, et al, Docket No. CAM-L-4044-11)

The matter is set down for an Order to Show Cause hearing on Friday, October 14, 2011 at 9 a.m., before Camden County Assignment Judge Francis J. Orlando at 101 South 5th Avenue, Camden.

Voorhees, Gibbsboro, the Camden County Prosecutor's Office and the Taylors have all filed opposition to my suit. My lawsuit, the opposition and all other related paperwork is on-line here.

The public and media are welcome to come and observe this suit. Anyone wishing to attend should call Judge Orlando's office at 856-379-2355 on Thursday afternoon to verify that the hearing has not been adjourned.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Runnemede school board apologizes for gaffe

According to an "Important Notice" on its website, the Runnemede (Camden County) Board of Education "inadvertently published on its website" an unredacted version of its May 10, 2011 executive session minutes. The minutes, which have since been removed from the Board's website, were the subject of my September 29, 2011 post entitled "Do two OPRA requests constitute harassment?" The minutes are available on-line here.

The text of the "Important Notice" is set forth below and is available at the Board's site as well as here.

IMPORTANT NOTICE

ON THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 2011, AT APPROXIMATELY 11:00 A.M., THE RUNNEMEDE BOROUGH BOARD OF EDUCATION (“BOARD”) INADVERTENTLY PUBLISHED ON ITS WEBSITE UNREDACTED BOARD EXECUTIVE SESSION MINUTES FROM ITS MEETING OF MAY 10, 2011. THE PUBLICATION OF THE MAY 10, 2011, MINUTES ON THE BOARD WEBSITE WAS A MISTAKE. IN RESPONSE, AS SOON AS THE BOARD BECAME AWARE OF THIS INADVERTENT ERROR, THE EXECUTIVE SESSION MINUTES OF MAY 10, 2011 WERE TAKEN OFF THE BOARD WEBSITE. THE BOARD WISHES THE PUBLIC TO KNOW THE FOLLOWING:

1. AT NO TIME DID THE BOARD WAIVE THE ATTORNEY-CLIENT PRIVILEGE WHEN IT INADVERTENTLY PUBLISHED THE MINUTES MENTIONED ABOVE.

2. TO THE EXTENT THAT THE IDENTITY OF INDIVIDUALS OR ENTITIES WERE INAPPROPRIATELY PUBLISHED BY THE POSTING OF THE MINUTES, THE BOARD APOLOGIZES AND EMPHASIZES THAT IT HAD NO INTENTION OF RELEASING THE IDENTITIES OF SUCH INDIVIDUALS OR ENTITES [sic].

3. THE BOARD HAS TAKEN ALL NECESSARY ACTION TO ENSURE THAT THIS INADVERTENCE DOES NOT OCCUR AGAIN.