Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Hunterdon judge orders disclosure of police dash-cam video, denies OPRA requestor's attorney fees.

In a December 2, 2016 order, Assignment Judge Yolanda Ciccone ruled that Readington Township (Hunterdon County) must provide the Trentonian newspaper with a patrol car's dash-cam video of the August 26, 2016 arrest of Scotch Plains Police Officer Stephanie Roggina.  According to media reports, Roggina was arrested for drunk driving after she struck a guardrail while attempting to elude police. She reportedly had only been on the job since June 2016.

Judge Ciccone noted that there are presently two conflicting, published Appellate Division decisions--North Jersey Media Group, Inc. v. Township of Lyndhurst and John Paff v. Ocean County Prosecutor's Office--regarding disclosure of police dash-cam videos.  When such conflicts exist, court rules allow a judge to decide which decision to follow and Judge Ciccone found that the Paff v. Ocean County case was "in line with the Legislature's intent in drafting OPRA."

On October 27, 2016, Ciccone's counterpart in Middlesex County--Assignment Judge Travis L. Francis--similarly elected to follow the Paff v. Ocean County case in a case against Old Bridge Township in which the OPRA requestor sought a dash-cam video of the former Carteret Police Director's drunk driving arrest.

Ciccone ruled, however, that Readington was not required to pay the the Trentonian's attorneys fees because "because [Readington's] refusal to submit the footage was based in reliance on the currently good North Jersey Media Group decision." 

The lawsuit, Digital First Media v. Township of Readington, et al, Docket No. HNT-L-427-16 was filed by Hackensack attorney C.J. Griffin on September 30, 2016. 

According to Griffin, Readington and the Hunterdon County Prosecutor's office, which was also named as a defendant in the case, appealed Judge Ciccone's order. The release the video has been stayed until after the Supreme Court resolves both the North Jersey Media Group, Inc. v. Township of Lyndhurst and Paff v. Ocean County Prosecutor's Office cases.  Griffin said that she cross-appealed from the part of the order that denied attorney's fees.

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