Saturday, September 29, 2012

OPRA lawsuit filed over "sealed" settlement agreement

Through attorney Richard Gutman of Montclair, I recently filed an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) lawsuit against Lawrence Township (Mercer County) for denying me access to a settlement agreement arising out of a Township police officer's race discrimination lawsuit against the Township.  The position taken by the Township is that the settlement agreement, which arose out of the officer's federal court action, was "sealed" by a May 4, 2012 order of the Mercer County Surrogate.  When I asked Lawrence for a copy of the Surrogate's Order that allegedly sealed access to the settlement,  I received an almost completely redacted version of the Surrogate's order.

My case was assigned to Mercer County Superior Court Mary C. Jacobson, the same judge who entered the May 4, 2012 sealing order.  Judge Jacobson has scheduled an Order to Show Cause hearing for my case on Friday, November 16, 2012, 2 p.m., at the Mercer County Courthouse in Trenton.  Case documents are on-line here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Union County pays $16,070.61 to Plaintiff's lawyer in OPRA case

On September 1, 2012, I posted a blog entry regarding a successful Open Public Records Act (OPRA) lawsuit by Cranford resident Tina Renna against the County of Union. At issue was the county's refusal to provide Renna with the home addresses of citizens who voluntarily signed up for a government newsletter.  I noted in that entry that the County had appealed the trial judge's order to both the Appellate Division and the Supreme Court.

Thereafter, I submitted a request for records relating to how much money, in total, the County paid in legal fees to both its own lawyer and Ms. Renna's lawyer.  The county advised me that since its attorney handled the matter "in-house" it paid no legal fees beyond the attorney's regular salary.  However, the County did disclose that it paid a total of $16,070.61 in attorney fees and costs to Walter M. Luers, who was Ms. Renna's attorney.

The documents the County provided, which are on-line here, show that Mr. Luers was paid $7,064 in costs and fees for winning the case at the trial level, of which he refunded $859.35 after the Appellate Division reversed the trial court's enhancement of his fee.  Mr. Luers was then paid $8,317.71 and $1,548.25 for defending Mr. Renna's success in the Appellate Division and the Supreme Court, respectively.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Township defends its tax-challenged municipal attorney

On July 18, 2012, I wrote to Mayor Elmer "Skip" Bowman and the Lawrence Township (Cumberland County) Committee about their municipal attorney, Thomas E. Seeley, Esq., having hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal tax liens docketed against him.  I made my inquiry after learning that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had served notices of levy seizing the money that the Township owed Mr. Seeley for his legal services.  I asked the Mayor and Committee three questions:

  1. Why the Township was still paying Mr. Seeley's law firm thousands of dollars even though the levy documents apparently demanded that all of Mr. Seeley's income be given to the IRS.
  2. Which lawyer (hopefully not Mr. Seeley), if any, advised the Township on how to handle the levy.
  3. Why the Township elected to retain a lawyer who has so many legal and tax problems when many other lawyers don't have these problems.
On September 10, 2012, I received the Township's response which focused mainly on my third question. The Township stated that it is happy with Mr. Seeley's services and feels that his personal financial issues aren't relevant to his service to the Township.   As for my first question, the Township stated only that they felt that they were correctly paying Mr. Seeley and the IRS.  And, the Township didn't respond at all to my second question.

My correspondence with Lawrence Township is on-line here.  The tax levies themselves are on-line here.

Case of man arrested for disrupting public meeting to be heard tomorrow

Update:  The Tinton Falls Municipal Court advised me on 10/09/12 that Mahedy was found "not guilty."  See disposition here.
According to Megan Thomas, Administrator of the Tinton Falls (Monmouth County) Municipal Court, State v. Tom Mahedy will be heard at noon on Tuesday, September 11, 2012 in the municipal courtroom at 556 Tinton Avenue, Tinton Falls.

Mr. Mahedy was arrested for disorderly conduct at the December 21, 2011 public meeting of the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA) when he refused to leave the podium during the public comment period.  According to a December 29, 2011 article in the Hub (see link below), FMERA Chairman James Gorman called police after Mahedy allegedly failed to keep his comments brief and on agenda items only.  According to the article, Gorman also required Mahedy to "not repeat anything you have said and has been addressed at prior meetings.”

The police officer allegedly gave Mahedy a chance to avoid arrest if he left the meeting room.  After he reportedly cried “I have studied this [Memorandum of Agreement] for hours! I have a right to speak" he was taken into custody after a brief struggle.

The article is on-line here.

The public is welcome to attend and observe the hearing. Those who wish to attend may want to call Administrator Thomas at 732-542-3400 X 201 the morning of the hearing to insure that it hasn't been postponed.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Unpublished Trial Court OPRA opinion

"Unpublished opinions" are not published in the law books and are not ordinarily written about in legal periodicals. Unless somebody puts them on-line and calls attention to them, they are likely not to be located by people who may want to search for them. I think that it's important that court opinions, even if they are not precedential, are easily accessible for future use.

I have converted the scanned opinion to a searchable text version. A link to the scan is contained within the footer to the live document.

    Tina Renna v. County of Union
    Union County, Docket No. UNN-L-2589-10
    Hon. Kathyrn A. Brock, J.S.C.
    September 14, 2010
    Click here for the opinion. 

Holding: Home addresses of citizens who voluntarily signed up for a government newsletter were subject to disclosure under the Open Public Records Act.

Also available at the above link is the Appellate Division's decision that affirmed Judge Brock's decision regarding disclosability of the records but reversed and remanded her decision to enhance Plaintiff's attorney fee award.