Friday, January 22, 2016

Burlington Judge: OPRA is not restricted to state residents.

In an October 2, 2015 decision, Burlington County Assignment Judge Ronald E. Bookbinder ruled that a requestor does not have to reside in New Jersey in order to use and enforce his or her rights under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA).

In a written decision in Scheeler v. Atlantic County Municipal Joint Insurance Fund, et al, Docket No. BUR-L-990-15, Bookbinder said that even though N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1 states that the purpose of OPRA is to benefit the "citizens of this State," there are "many operational provisions of OPRA in which the phrase 'any person' is used, with no mention of a citizenship requirement."  He also reasoned that New Jersey citizens benefit from the transparency and efficiency that OPRA fosters regardless of whether a request is made by a resident or nonresident.  Finally, Judge Bookbinder ruled that a citizenship requirement "would be incredibly easy to evade" because OPRA requires custodians to honor anonymous records requests.

The Joint Insurance Fund had denied access to "Confidential and Privileged Memos" pertaining to legal invoices that Scheeler had requested.  Bookbinder found that Scheeler was entitled to redacted versions of those memos and awarded him $18,326.10 in legal fees and costs.  Scheeler was represented by CJ Griffin of Hackensack.  Since the fee order was entered on December 24, 2015, the Joint Insurance Fund has until early February to appeal.

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