Friday, December 22, 2017

Evesham Councilman, wife sue MUA for failing to redact social security number from records disclosed under OPRA.

On December 21, 2017, a member of the Evesham Township (Burlington County) Council and his wife filed a pro-se lawsuit against the Evesham Municipal Utilities Authority (MUA) and the Authority's records custodian for improperly releasing the Councilman's social security number in response to an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request.

In their lawsuit, Robert and Virginia DiEnna said that in December 2015 MUA records custodian Laura Puszcz released records that contained Robert's social security number in response to to Phillip Warren's OPRA request.  Councilman DiEnna said the MUA had his personal information because he was hired as an MUA employee in 2012.

The DiEnnas claimed that they did not become aware that Robert's social security number had been released until September 26, 2016.  They claimed that the disclosure of the social security number invaded their privacy and caused them emotional distress.

The DiEnnas' lawsuit is only a list of allegations. Nothing has been proven and the burden of proof remains on the DiEnnas.

Unpublished trial court OPRA opinion.

Unpublished opinions" are not published in the law books and are not ordinarily written about in legal periodicals.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 I think that it's important that court opinions, even if they are not precedential, are easily accessible for future use.

Charles R. Cohen v. City of Englewood et al, Docket No. BER-L-7144-17
Hon. Bonnie J. Mizdol, A.J.S.C.
December 21, 2017
Click here for the court's decision.

Summary:  The most intriguing part of Judge Mizdol's opinion is her remarks about time sheets prepared by an engineering firm that was under contract with Englewood.  Even though the City did not have the time sheets in its possession, Mizdol suggested that she would have required the City to retrieve them for the OPRA requestor because those time sheets "should have been on file with, or accessible to city officials because such access allows the governing body to 'perform the oversight function expected . . .'"  The internal quote was taken from the Supreme Court's holding in Verry v. Franklin Fire District No 1, 230 N.J. 285, 303 (2017).  Judge Mizdol didn't require Englewood to produce the time sheets in this instance because the OPRA request was "unartfully drafted" and did not specifically ask for them.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Lawsuit seeks to compel Salem County to pay OPRA attorney fee.

On June 27, 2017, the Government Records Council (GRC) ordered Salem County to pay my attorney $2,310 in fees after having previously found on April 25, 2017 that the County violated my rights under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA). The County has thus far ignored several requests to pay the fees necessitating a lawsuit to compel payment of the $2,310 plus additional fees and costs for having to bring the lawsuit.

The original GRC matter was Paff v. County of Salem, GRC Complaint No. 2015-342.  The new court matter is Paff v. Salem County, Docket No. SLM-L-222-17. Superior Court Judge David M. Morgan has issued an order requiring the County to appear in court on Friday, December 22, 2017 at 1:30 p.m. to show cause why it should not be required to pay the overdue fees.

My attorney is Ted M. Rosenberg of Moorestown and Salem County is being represented by County Solicitor Michael M. Mulligan.

Friday, December 1, 2017

3,974 (now 4,750) lines of OAL open case data are now on-line in an Excel file.

Update 02/08/18:  I received a new list today that contains 4,750 lines of data rather than the 3,974 on the previous list.  I believe that something was improperly suppressed on the previous list.
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On July 31, 2017, I reported that the Office of Administrative Law (OAL), in response to an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, disclosed an Excel file containing docket information on about 350 cases.  As I noted in my article, government agencies, in accordance with the Supreme Court's June 20, 2017 ruling in Paff v. Galloway, are now obliged to extract information from government databases in response to OPRA requests.

After writing my article, the OAL released an expanded list that contains docket information on all of its cases that were active on August 1, 2017.  The list, set forth in an Excel file which I've placed on-line here, contains 3,974 lines of data.  Since some are duplicates, this may represent about 2,000 separate cases.

To my knowledge, apart from the Excel file at the above link, the OAL has provided no method for members of the public to access its case docket.  Accordingly, cases are filed and adjudicated without anyone other than the parties and their lawyers knowing that these cases exist.

Some of the cases are of significant public interest, such as the State Board of Examiners cases.  These cases, represented by the code EDE in Column D, list the names of school teachers and administrators some of whom are contesting the suspension of their certificates. (Note: Column "D" of the table contains a three-character code that identifies the agency where the case originated. A table that lists each the three-character codes and its corresponding agency is on-line here.)  Some of those matters have public hearings scheduled that will take place during the next several weeks.  For example, someone named David C. Raffo is listed to appear before Administrative Law Judge John Scollo in Newark on January 10th and 11th of 2018.  A Google search on Raffo's name shows that the Board of Examiners issued an Order to Show cause to him at its March 3, 2017 meeting to determine "why his certificate(s) should not be revoked based on the level and nature of the conduct."

While the database and Internet searches do not reveal the nature of Raffo's alleged underlying conduct, an interested member of the public or media could submit an OPRA request for the case documents and perhaps glean an understanding of the issues and attend the hearing to observe the proceedings.  While in a perfect system all of public case information would be on-line, this Excel table at least provides members of the public and press with a roadmap that they can follow to obtain that information.