Thursday, October 1, 2015

Middlesex Judge sharply criticizes, but ultimately follows, an Appellate ruling that sealed most police records.

Earlier this year, the Appellate Division issued a decision that drastically restricted public access to law enforcement records.  The decision, in North Jersey Media Group, Inc. v. Township of Lyndhurst, caused Middlesex County Assignment Judge L. Travis on September 21, 2015 to reluctantly reverse his previous order that granted access to police car dashcam videos that recorded 119 pursuits by New Brunswick police that resulted in eluding charges being filed.  Although he was constrained to follow the Appellate Division's Lyndhurst precedent, Judge Francis sharply criticized the decision in William Brennan v. Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office, Docket No. MID-L-293-15.  Judge Francis wrote:

"This Court muses at the notion that OPRA was created to assist those trying to keep a watchful eye over the police in their general duties but if an interaction is documented on an MVR [i.e. dashcam] or body camera, the same would be considered an exempt criminal investigatory record. This Court wearily searches for the boundaries of the "criminal investigatory record exemption 'to no avail.' * * * For OPRA purposes it is clear that an MVR would arguably be one of the best documents to use to keep a watchful eye over government or to get to the facts of a set of circumstances. Now, the news or any inquisitive citizen must understand what happened in an event through a press release, as access to these MVRs is forever barred from OPRA related public access."




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