Open Government Advocacy Project
The Open Government Advocacy Project is a committee of the NJ Libertarian Party. Its goal is to ensure transparency and accountability at all levels of government. Articles posted here are a subset of the work of the committee. For more information visit the Open Government Advocacy Project blog.
If you would like to demand accountability and ensure that your local governing body or school board adheres to the Open Public Records Act we can help you request information from them. Contact John Paff, the project chair here.
Burlington Judge Rebuffs PBA, Orders Disclosure of Redacted Log of Internal Affairs Complaints Against County Corrections Officers
In an August 31, 2016 ruling, Burlington County Assignment Judge Ronald E. Bookbinder denied Burlington County's and the New Jersey Police Benevolent Association's (PBA) bid to reverse his previous decision calling for disclosure of a redacted list of Internal Affairs complaints against corrections officers at the Burlington County Correctional and Detention Facility.
In his ruling in John Paff v. Burlington County, et al., Docket No. BUR-L-36-15, Bookbinder wrote that disclosure of the list, with the names of the officers redacted, will help me to "research the frequency and nature of complaints brought against Burlington County Corrections Officers" without jeopardizing "the privacy interests and potential safety concerns of the officers named on the list."
Stafford Township confidentially paid out $34,000 to settle man's lawsuit claiming that mayor misused Stafford Police to perpetrate a personal vendetta against him
On June 13, 2016, the Township of Stafford (Ocean County) agreed to pay $34,000 to a man who claimed that Mayor John Spodofora used "the Stafford Police as his personal agents" to retaliate against him for publicly criticizing Spodofora for "stolen valor" (i.e. exaggeration of military service).
In his lawsuit, Earl Galloway, a retired Navy Master Chief, said that after he created a spoof Facebook page called "Spodophony" which contained "accurate information to correct [Spodofora's] exaggerations and fabrications" regarding his service in the Vietnam conflict, Spodofora filed an identify theft charge against him, attempted to block Galloway's membership into the Stafford GOP club and publicly accused him of "hacking into [Spodofora's] child's computer and stealing files."
Lawyer to blogger: "Immediately cease and desist in your publication" of my client's confidential settlement agreement with a public agency
On July 12, 2016, I published "Sparta school board confidentially paid $50,000 to settle former custodian's wrongful termination lawsuit." I distributed a link to the article to area media (which resulted in Eric Obernauer of the New Jersey Herald publishing "Sparta school board settles suit with former custodian" on July 14, 2016) as well as to the lawsuit plaintiff's attorney.
Today, I received the following e-mail from the attorney who represented the former school custodian in the wrongful termination lawsuit:
On April 4, 2016, Clinton attorney Walter M. Luers filed a Denial of Access complaint with the Government Records Council (GRC) on behalf of a local on-line newspaper reporter who was told that she needed to pay "$1.80 for copying fees" before Cape May City Clerk Louise Cummiskey would scan twenty-six pages of public records into an electronic file and e-mail it to her.
For years, I have been trying to get state level enforcement of a provision in the Local Public Contracts Law that requires local governments to publish in the local newspaper the dollar amounts of the profession services contracts that it awards without competitive bidding. Such notification is clearly required by state statute but many local governments simply ignore the requirement.
In early 2015, I was heartened by the Department of Community Affairs' initial decision to adopt a rule, in response to the New Jersey Libertarian Party's (NJLP) Petition for Rulemaking, that would enforce the dollar amount disclosure requirement. Unfortunately, the Division let the rule proposal expire. The NJLP still holds on to hope and has filed another, similar Petition for Rulemaking on March 16, 2016.
In her April 29, 2016 response to the Government Records Council (GRC), Assistant City Attorney Lori E. Caughman admitted that the Trenton Police Department failed to prepare two types of mandatory public reports that summarize complaints received and adjudicated by the department's Internal Affairs Unit.
Caughman's filing was in response to my Denial of Access Complaint which was filed on March 31, 2016 by attorney CJ Griffin of Hackensack. The complaint shows that on October 21, 2015, I had requested several types of reports that the Attorney General's Internal Affairs Guidelines require police departments to prepare and make available to the public. Among the reports I requested were the reports required by "Requirement 10" on p 44 of the Guidelines:
Each agency must release reports to the public summarizing the allegations received and the investigations concluded for that period. In addition, the agency shall periodically release a brief synopsis of all complaints where a fine or suspension of 10 days or more was assessed to an agency member.
In her December 10, 2015 response to my request for the six most recent versions of each of these required reports (for a total of twelve reports), Trenton Police Detective Alexis Durlacher released only one Internal Affairs Summary Report covering the first half of 2012. I received no answer to my December 21, 2015 fax to Diadina Allen of the City Clerk's office asking why the eleven missing reports were not provided. It was only after I filed my GRC action did the City admit that those eleven reports do not exist.
The New Jersey Libertarian Party's Police Accountability Project has filed an Internal Affairs complaint "against the employee(s), whose identities are presently unknown, who are responsible for preparing and releasing" these reports.
On April 14, 2016, Libertarians for Transparent Government, a NJ nonprofit corporation, filed a lawsuit in Passaic County Superior Court challenging the City of Passaic's refusal to provide any minutes of City Council nonpublic (closed or executive) meetings held in 2015 as well as the minutes from Planning Board public meetings held as early as February 19, 2014 and Zoning Board public meetings held as early as January 17, 2015.
The basis for the City's denial of the public meeting minutes is that they "have not been approved." The basis for denial of the Council's closed meeting minutes is that they must "remain exempt from production under such time as there is no longer a need for confidentiality" and that "the City Council has not adopted a Resolution authorizing the release" of those closed minutes.
In its brief, penned by Hackensack attorney CJ Griffin, the Libertarian organization argues that minutes of closed meetings must be promptly produced in redacted form and that unapproved public meeting minutes can simply be stamped "draft" and publicly released.
Assignment Judge Thomas F. Brogan will likely schedule a hearing on this matter in the coming weeks.
On Tuesday, February 23, 2016, the Bergen County NAACP will host a public forum to discuss proposed legislation that seeks to prevent public access to all police camera recordings and 911 calls. The forum, which is open to all, will begin at 7 p.m. at the Teaneck High School Media Center at 100 Elizabeth Avenue.
At issue is Senate Bill 788, sponsored by Senator Paul A. Sarlo (D-Bergen/Passaic), which would amend the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) so that "law enforcement camera recordings" and "9-1-1 audio recordings or transcripts" could not be disclosed to the public. Specifically, S788 would add the following two exceptions to OPRA:
- law enforcement camera recordings, except for use by any person authorized by law to have access to the recordings or for use by any government agency, including any court or law enforcement agency, for purposes of the administration of justice;
- 9-1-1 audio recordings or transcripts of a 9-1-1 call;
On Friday, March 4, 2016 at 9 a.m. Hudson County Superior Court Judge Joseph A. Turula will hear my Open Public Records Act (OPRA) case against the City of Bayonne. See, Paff v. City of Bayonne et al, Docket No. HUD-L-5203-15. This is the lawsuit discussed in Jonathan Lin's January 27, 2016 Jersey Journal article and I am being represented by CJ Griffin of Hackensack.
I maintain a blog called NJ Civil Settlements which, as its name implies, reports on settlements of lawsuits against government agencies and officials. Learning whether, when and how these lawsuits have concluded is sometimes difficult, especially since many of the settlement agreements contain confidentiality clauses that prevent the parties from revealing the amount of settlement or even the existence of a settlement agreement.
A lawsuit filed today in Mercer County Superior Court seeks the identities and other information regarding officers from the State Police and Mercer Sheriff's Department who fired fifteen shots at Radazz Hearns, now 15, on August 7, 2015. Seven of the shots struck Hearns, causing him to be hospitalized for a week. Despite public outcry and controversy over whether Hearns actually possessed a gun at the time he was shot, law enforcement officials have refused to identify the police officers who fired the shots.
On October 15, 2015, both Isaac Isaac Avilucea of the Trentonian and Keith Brown of NJ Advance Media published articles claiming that their investigations found that Doug Muraglia and James Udijohn were the officers who shot Hearns. When asked to confirm the information in Brown's article, Deputy Attorney General Ryan C. Atkinson refused to do so and claimed that any lawsuit filed to obtain the officers' names would be frivolous.
The lawsuit is captioned John Paff v. Office of the Attorney General, et al., was filed by C.J. Griffin of Hackensack-based law firm Pashman Stein.
At 10 a.m. on Wednesday, October 14, 2015, Mercer County Assignment Judge Mary C. Jacobson will hear argument in Paff v. Department of Law and Public Safety, et al., Docket No. MER-L-1685-15. This Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and common law right of access case was filed on my behalf by Walter M. Luers of Clinton.
The lawsuit challenges the New Jersey State Police decision to suppress the identity of a State Trooper who resigned or was fired for offering to not execute an arrest warrant in exchange for the warrant's target having sex with him. The case also seeks the Trooper's resignation letter and a plea agreement that resolved internal charges against the Trooper. No criminal charges were filed against the Trooper.
The matter will be heard on the 4th floor of the Mercer County Courthouse, 400 S. Warren St, Trenton. Members of media and public are encouraged to attend and observe but are advised to call the court at 609-571-4499 the day prior to confirm that the hearing date and hour have not changed.
During its July 27, 2015 public meeting, the Gloucester Township (Camden County) Council voted to end the public comment portion of the meeting for the stated reasons of one speaker's comments not having "something to do with government" and for not being sufficiently "respectful to others."
The video of the meeting shows that resident Tom Crone, a Republican, began addressing the Democratic-controlled Council at 28:15 on the video. At about 41:40 Crone began speaking as spokesman for the Gloucester Township and Camden County Republican parties about "an unwholesome and unsavory incident . . . that involved" officials from Council Vice President Orlando Mercado's and his running mates' reelection campaign.
On October 27, 2014, I blogged about the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police ("NJSACOP") entering as an amicus curiae or "friend of the court" into Galloway Township's appeal of a trial court's ruling that I am entitled to logs showing the sender, recipient, date and subject line of each e-mail sent by a specific government employee during a specified period of time.
Recently, four other organizations have also sought to participate in the case: the New Jersey State League of Municipalities, the New Jersey Institute of Local Government Attorneys, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The League and Institute filed a joint brief which is on-line here and the ACLU's and Foundation's joint brief is on-line here.