Thursday, September 10, 2015

NJ Assembly bill seeks to require GRC's initial mediation and adjudication of records disputes.

On June 22, 2015, the Assembly Appropriations Committee favorably reported Assembly No. 4435, introduced on May 11, 2015 by Assemblymen John J. Burzichelli (D-West Deptford) and John DiMaio (R-Bridgewater).  If passed, Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requestors who are denied access to a record would no longer be able to take their disputes directly to Superior Court.  Rather, requestors would have to file their complaints with the Government Records Council (GRC) and go through the GRC's mediation process.  If the mediation does not resolve a complaint, the GRC would adjudicate the dispute and "issue an advisory opinion in the matter as to whether the particular type of record is a government record which is accessible to the public."

After completing these steps, an aggrieved requestor would be allowed to file a Superior Court action five days after serving a notice of intent upon the government agency which denied the request.

The bill also seeks a change that will require a public agency to pay a requestor's attorney fees "in the event the Government Records Council opinion determined that the government record had been improperly denied."  According to a strict reading of the proposal, a requestor who wins in Superior Court after losing before the GRC would not be able to get his or her attorney fees paid by the government agency which denied the request.

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