In memory of Assignment Judge Lisa P. Thornton: A champion of open government

In memory of Assignment Judge Lisa P. Thornton: A champion of open government

It is with profound sadness that we must reflect on the passing of Monmouth County Assignment Judge Lisa P. Thornton. A respected jurist in the legal community, she was admired for her steadfast commitment to justice and her principled interpretation of the law, specifically the Open Public Records Act (OPRA).

One significant case that remains a testament to her dedication to transparency is Jennifer Coombs, Gavin Rozzi & Jeff Epstein v. County of Monmouth et al., Docket No. MON-L-3195-18. Although it was an unpublished trial court decision, it is a ruling of considerable importance to our work here at OPRAmachine because it was the only time that a trial court specifically upheld the validity of the OPRA requests submitted by users of our platform.

When the County of Monmouth, their county counsel & outside attorneys unfairly - and illegally - sought to deny requests submitted by OPRAmachine users solely for the use of our platform, Judge Thornton came firmly down on the side of public access to information, upholding the spirit and intent of OPRA. Her decision in this case confirmed that our platform is a legitimate vehicle for the public to request government records, thereby ensuring our ongoing operation.

Read Judge Thornton's full decision regarding the validity of OPRAmachine requests below:

This ruling demonstrated Judge Thornton's respect for the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and her belief in the right to access government information. Her understanding of the intersection of law and technology was manifest in her well-considered opinion.

Thornton's ruling categorically rejected the Monmouth County Counsel's specious "privacy" concerns relative to citizens who choose to utilize the OPRAmachine platform to submit their requests.

"Any inadvertent disclosure of confidential records can be prevented if defendants perform an adequate review and make appropriate redactions," Judge Thornton ruled in 2019 opinion striking down Monmouth County's policy that specifically targeted OPRAmachine for reprisal over the county staff's failure to properly redact public records. "The County’s new policy inappropriately shifts the responsibility to protect a citizen’s privacy to the requestor, and does nothing to prevent the inadvertent disclosure of confidential records. Defendants fail to acknowledge that documents processed with a personal email address can be immediately uploaded to the internet."

We have included audio of oral argument below, and it provides a valuable insight into Judge Thornton's meticulous approach to legal reasoning and respect demonstrated for our work. It allows us to appreciate her considered examination of the arguments presented and her thoughtful process of arriving at her decision.

Judge Thornton's role as a superior court judge was marked by her adherence to the principles of justice, fairness, and transparency. Her approach to the Coombs et al v. County of Monmouth et al case reaffirmed these values. Her dedication to these principles serves as a model for all those engaged in the legal profession.

Judge Thornton's passing is a significant loss to the legal community and to all those who advocate for open government. As we continue our work at OPRAmachine, we honor her legacy and strive to uphold the principles she so firmly stood for.

We extend our deepest condolences to Judge Thornton's family, friends, and colleagues. Her impact on the legal community and on our work at OPRAmachine will not be forgotten.