An open and transparent court system is an integral part of our democratic government. The public has a right of access not only to our courts, but also to court records. Public access to court records allows citizens to understand the system and to judge its effectiveness.This lofty goal, however, does not actually play out in practice.
On September 6, 2013, New Jersey enacted L.2013, Chapter 158 which established a conditional discharge program for municipal courts that allows first time offenders to avoid prosecution for a large variety of disorderly and petty disorderly offenses if they enter into a supervisory program. The new law, which became effective on January 4, 2014, requires applicants to pay $75 into a "non-lapsing fund to be known as the 'Municipal Court Diversion Fund,' which shall be administered by the Administrative Office of the Courts."
In order to see whether municipal courts had promptly implemented this new diversionary tool, I submitted a request to the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) for a "report that shows the transactions made in the 'Municipal Court Diversion Fund' during the month of February 2014."
Today, I received a response from Steven A. Somogyi of the AOC stating that no such report "is maintained by this office." Rather, developing such a report "could only be obtained through the creation of a special computer report" which the AOC is not required to produce. Thus, interested citizens are unable to receive a basic financial report to learn whether and how a legislative enactment is being implemented.
So much for the New Jersey's Judiciary's comittment to open government.