Monday, April 18, 2016

Ocean judge weighs in on the right of non-residents to use OPRA.

Ocean County Superior Court Judge Mark A. Troncone is the most recent judge to rule on the issue of whether a non-resident of New Jersey has the right to request records under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA).  In his April 14, 2016, opinion and order in Scheeler v. Ocean County Prosecutor's Office, Docket No. OCN-L-395-15, Judge Troncone found that OPRA is "clear and unambiguous" and wrote that if the Legislature intended to limit OPRA rights to New Jersey citizens, it could have used the word "citizen" instead of "person" throughout the statute.  Troncone wrote:
It is clear that taken to its logical conclusion, the position advanced by [the prosecutor's office] would leave many parties who have a legitimate need to access to public records without recourse. For example, a non-resident property owner and taxpayer could not obtain public records affecting his property; the out-of-state motorist involved in an accident would be unable to access documents from law enforcement officials relating to the incident; and a newspaper, published in a neighboring state but circulated in New Jersey, investigating a claim of alleged official misconduct or corruption would be barred from obtaining public records. Clearly, all of these parties have a real and legitimate interest in obtaining those records but, under [the prosecutor's office's] overly restrictive view of the reach of OPRA would be prevented from doing so. This would clearly frustrate the intent and purpose of the statute.
Troncone's ruling is in accord with an October 2, 2015 decision by Burlington County Assignment Judge Ronald E. Bookbinder in Scheeler v. Atlantic County Municipal Joint Insurance Fund, et al, Docket No. BUR-L-990-15.  But, his decision is contrary to two rulings handed down on February 19, 2016 by Atlantic/Cape May County Judge Nelson C. Johnson:  Scheeler v. City of Cape May, et al, Docket No. CPM-L-444-15 and Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law v. Atlantic City Board of Education, et al, Docket No. ATL-L-832-15.  All three of these decisions have been appealed.

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