Saturday, August 20, 2016

Lawsuit tests whether "Intergovernmental Transfer Agreements" are disclosable under OPRA.

On Thursday, October 27, 2016, 10:30 a.m., Mercer County Assignment Judge Mary C. Jacobson will hear argument on whether "Intergovernmental Transfer Agreements"--documents that are completed when civil service employees transfer from one job to another--are public under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA).

In Darnell Hardwick v. Civil Service Commission, et al, Docket No. MER-L-1638-16, Hardwick requested the transfer applications submitted by five police officers who were terminated by the Camden City Police Department and then re-hired by the Camden County Metro Police Department. Civil Service Commission Records Custodian Peter J. Lyden, III denied Hardwick's request in its entirety claiming that the records were exempted by OPRA's personnel records exception. 

But, Walter M. Luers, Hardwick's lawyer, argues that the Commission should have released redacted versions of the records because an exception to OPRA's personnel records exception requires certain basic information about employees to be disclosed.  Luers argues that the Commission, as it has done in the past, should disclose the applications "to the extent that they show payroll information, employee names, titles, positions, dates of separation, etc."  Luers characterizes the transfer applications as being "ministerial in nature, [containing] basic salary and employee title information, and [which] do not contain sensitive information, other than personal information that can (and has been) redacted in the past."

The hearing, which is open to the public, will be held in the New Criminal Courthouse, 400 S. Warren Street in Trenton.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Unpublished trial court OPRA opinion.

Unpublished opinions" are not published in the law books and are not ordinarily written about in legal periodicals. Unless somebody puts them on-line and calls attention to them, they are likely not to be located by people who may want to search for them. I think that it's important that court opinions, even if they are not precedential, are easily accessible for future use.

Fran Brooks v. Township of Tabernacle, et al.
Burlington County, Docket No. BUR-L-43-15
Hon. Ronald E. Bookbinder, A.J.S.C.
June 21, 2016
Click here for the court's decision.

Summary:  Requestor entitled under both the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and the common law right of access to financial information contained in documents submitted to Tabernacle Township by a property owner in support of his application for farmland assessment. Township to pay requestor's attorney fees and costs.

Note: Judge Bookbinder's opinion is labeled as "tentative."  My understanding is that despite this label, the opinion was later accepted as "final" by the court.

OPRA lawsuit seeks to find out if prosecutor's employee who allegedly failed drug test was forced to resign.

Update: Judge Troncone ruled against the plaintiff and dismissed the complaint.  The decision is on-line here.  The matter has been appealed and Plaintiff's opening brief and the Prosecutor's opposition brief are on-line.

N.J.S.A. 47:1A-10 requires public employers to disclose the following information regarding their employees: "name, title, position, salary, payroll record, length of service, date of separation and the reason therefor, and the amount and type of any pension received."  On September 16, 2016 at 1:30 p.m. Ocean County Superior Court Judge Mark A. Troncone will hear an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) case that seeks to determine how much information a government employer who forces an employee to resign under threat of removal must disclose in response to an OPRA request for the "reason" for the employee's separation from employment.

After receiving a tip that an employee who worked in the evidence room at the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office (OCPO) was forced to resign after failing a random drug test, Libertarians For Transparent Government, a NJ nonprofit corporation (LFTG) sought the "reason" underlying the employee's separation from employment.  LFTG believed that if it could confirm that the evidence room worker, referred to as "John Doe" in the lawsuit, was fired because of failing a drug test, that fact would be of legitimate interest to the public, particularly criminal defendants who were being prosecuted in Ocean County.

In response to LFTG's OPRA request, the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office disclosed only that John Doe had resigned, provided the effective date of resignation and refused to say whether the resignation was voluntary or compelled.  LFTG filed a lawsuit seeking the real reason underlying Doe's resignation.  In her brief, LFTG's attorney CJ Griffin of Hackensack, argued that it is not sufficient for a government agency to simply say that an employee "resigned" in cases where the resignation was forced by a threat of dismissal.

Also on line are the OCPO's opposition to the relief sought and LFTG's reply brief