Friday, June 20, 2014

"Brady letters" sought in OPRA lawsuit

Update: I received a voicemail on June 23, 2014 from a Wildwood Crest official telling me that he doesn't "have a Brady letter [and] never had one." The Prosecutor's May 5, 2014 denial of my OPRA request does not say that separate Brady letters exist for each of the three officials referenced in my OPRA request and named in my civil complaint.  The denial suggests that at least one Brady letter exists concerning at least one of these three officials.  Thus, it is entirely possible that the caller is being truthful in stating that a Brady letter pertaining to him never issued.
 On June 13, 2014, attorney Richard Gutman of Montclair filed a lawsuit on my behalf seeking "Brady letters" from the Cape May County Prosecutor's Office.  My Complaint and Certification in John Paff v. Cape May County Prosecutor's Office, Docket No. CPM-L-265-14 are on-line here.  The County's response is here, the court case that the County attached to its response is here and my reply to the County's response is here.

"Brady letters" are named after the United States Supreme Court's 1963 decision in the case of Brady v. Maryland.  That decision, among other things, requires law enforcement officials to notify criminal defendants and their lawyers whenever they receive information that a police officer involved in the defendants' cases has been untruthful.

For example, suppose that Officer Jones is found to have perjured himself in testifying against Defendant John Doe.  Suppose further that at the time the perjury is discovered,  three other defendants, Roe, Smith and Brown are all awaiting trial on separate charges and that Jones'  testimony will be necessary for successful prosecutions of  these three defendants.  The Brady v. Maryland decision imposes upon the prosecutor, once becoming aware of Jones' perjury, to inform Roe's, Smith's and Brown's defense attorneys about Jones' perjury.  This is because without knowing that  Jones had perjured himself in another matter, Roe, Smith and  Brown would not know to raise the perjury finding in their own trials in order to undermine Jones' credibility.

On April 26, 2014, after hearing that three Wildwood Crest Police officials had "Brady letters" issued for undisclosed reasons, I submitted an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for those letters.  In his May 5, 2014 response, Cape May County First Assistant Prosecutor Robert W. Johnson appears to concede that the "Brady letters" exist, but concludes that they are exempt from disclosure under various legal theories.

On May 18, 2014, Attorney Gutman sent Johnson a letter informing him that we would sue of the letters weren't disclosed on or before May 25, 2014.  After not hearing back from Johnson, we filed our lawsuit and are awaiting further proceedings by the court.

At this point, I encourage readers to not read too much into the prosecutor's response or draw any hasty conclusions regarding any of these officers' honesty or credibility.  Rather, I suggest that we all refrain from jumping to conclusions until any "Brady letters" are publicly disclosed.

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