Thursday, June 12, 2014

Unpublished trial court OPRA opinion.

"Unpublished opinions" are not published in the law books and are not ordinarily written about in legal periodicals.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 I think that it's important that court opinions, even if they are not precedential, are easily accessible for future use.

John Paff v. Galloway Township, et al
Atlantic County, Docket No. ATL-L-5428-13
Hon. Nelson C. Johnson, J.S.C.
June 10, 2014
Click here for the court's decision.

Summary: The question presented was whether a government agency is required to produce an e-mail log showing the sender, recipient, date and subject line of each e-mail sent by a specific government employee during a specified period of time. 

The Township's position was that while it was required to produce the e-mails themselves (provided that they weren't otherwise exempt), producing a log would require the Township to create a new record that does not already exist.  The Township argued that OPRA did not require it to create a record but only to provide records that already existed.

Attorney Walter Luers and I argued that since the Township's e-mails are digitally stored on a computer, any report that can be queried from the e-mail system is a public record available under OPRA.

Judge Johnson ruled thst "[w]hether termed 'metadata' . . . or not, the fact remains that the emails . . . are public records as defined by the OPRA because they comprise '. . . information stored or maintained electronically . . . that has been made, maintained and kept on file in the course of his or its official business by any officer, commission, agency or authority of the state or any political subdivision thereof' By logical/reasonable extension, a log or list of emails that can be easily prepared, is likewise within the ambits of that definition."

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