Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Court to decide whether public--or only law enforcement--can access Promis/Gavel's customized reports.

Andrew C. Carey
Middlesex County Prosecutor
Update:  We lost this case, principally due to the court's view that the database belonged to the Judiciary rather than the County Prosecutor.  On-line are the Prosecutor's Opposition, our Reply Brief and the Court's order.
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On Wednesday, September 16, 2015 at 9 a.m., Middlesex County Assignment Judge Travis L. Francis will hear argument in Paff v. Carey, Docket No. MID-L-4240-15. This potentially very important case presents the following question:
Are records that can be queried from the data contained within the Promis/Gavel system--New Jersey's automated criminal case tracking system--obtainable under the Open Public Records Act?  
(Of somewhat lesser importance, the case also asks whether reports that have already been queried from Promis/Gavel are subject to disclosure under OPRA.)

Governments increasingly keep information in relational databases that are capable of producing custom reports that users specify.  Governments, however, often believe that the convenience and advantages of custom computerized reports should inure only to the government and not private citizens.

Private parties have legitimate needs for such reports.  Journalists and researchers would clearly find it useful to have access to customized reports showing, for example, all sexual assault arrests in Union County during 2011 through 2014 sorted by municipality. Such availability would greatly help journalists serve their audiences and researchers draw fact-supported conclusions.  As pointed out in the American Civil Liberty Union's and Electronic Frontier Foundation amicus brief filed in my case against Galloway Township,
Members of the public - who, lest we forget, ultimately pay for this technology - should be granted access to the same tools that public agencies use every day - specifically the ability to request a search of its electronic records for specific terms. Especially in this information age, any other result would effectively eviscerate the public's rights.
I am being represented in the matter by Walter M. Luers of Clinton.  Media and the public are invited to attend this hearing but are cautioned to call the court at 732-519-3413 the day prior to hearing to ensure that it hasn't been postponed.

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