Friday, July 31, 2015

Pair of OPRA cases against Cumberland County to be heard on August 5th.


Update: The matters are scheduled for Wednesday, September 9, 2015, 2 p.m.

On Wednesday, August 5, 2015 at 9:30 a.m., Cumberland County Assignment Judge Georgia M. Curio will hear oral argument on a pair of Open Public Records Act (OPRA) cases filed against Cumberland County.  The hearing will be in Courtroom 346 in the Cumberland County Courthouse in Bridgeton.

The cases are both captioned Scheergie Nicolas v. County of Cumberland, et al, and bear docket numbers CUM-L-334-15 and CUM-L-335-15.  Both were filed on May 19,2015 by Laurel Springs firm of Conrad J. Benedetto.  In both cases, Nicolas, who works the Benedetto firm, filed OPRA requests on March 11, 2015 seeking records pertaining to Cumberland County Jail inmates Rashee Barlow and Rasheem Jacobs. The lawsuits were reported in the May 28, 2015 South Jersey Times.

The records sought in Docket No. CUM-L-334-15 are documents and videos regarding an alleged January 4, 2015 incident between Barlow and Corrections Officer Dawkins (no first name given).  The records sought under CUM-L-335-15 include videos and documentation of an alleged February 25, 2015 assault on Jacobs.

In his response to Docket No. CUM-L-334-15, Cumberland County Solicitor Theodore E. Baker said that Omarey Williams, the County's former custodian of records, requested additional time to produce the records but Benedetto's firm filed suit without responding to Williams' request.  Baker states that all responsive documents that exist were produced on May 28, 2015 and June 10, 2015.

In his response to Docket No. CUM-L-335-15, Baker did not admit that the County received the OPRA request, denied that the request was valid and claimed that the County lacked "sufficient information or knowledge" to say whether or not Nicolas had received a response to his request prior to the lawsuit's filing.  In his defenses to the lawsuit, Baker claimed that all responsive documents were exempt as criminal investigatory records since they "were subject to a criminal investigation by the Cumberland County Prosecutor's Office."

The public and press are invited to attend but are urged to call the court at 856-453-4303 or 856-453-4330 the day before the hearing to make sure it hasn't been adjourned.

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