Monday, February 6, 2017

Judge rules that Willingboro violated OPRA by failing to disclose draft, unsigned lawsuit release.

On January 31, 2017, Burlington County Assignment Judge Ronald E. Bookbinder issued a twenty-eight page opinion holding that a proposed release exchanged between a lawsuit's parties was disclosable under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA).  The Township of Willingboro, the defendant in the lawsuit, had argued that the unsigned release and its cover letter were exempt as attorney-client privileged, as advisory, consultative and deliberative and as communication between a public entity and its insurer.  Bookbinder rejected all three defenses.

The May 20, 2016 cover letter and draft settlement agreement that Willingboro had refused to disclose in response to the OPRA request were ultimately disclosed in accordance with Judge Bookbinder's ruling.

In addition to Bookbinder, judges in Mercer, Hudson, Passaic and Essex Counties have considered the issue of whether draft, unsigned releases and settlement agreements are disclosable under OPRA.  All judges have ruled that they are except for Mercer County Assignment Judge Mary C. Jacobson.

The lawsuit plaintiff, Libertarians for Transparent Government, was represented by Walter M. Luers of Clinton.

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