Monmouth County attorneys unlawfully dodging OPRA requests to cover up county employee negligence
This week we announced our multi-plaintiff OPRA lawsuit against the Monmouth County government.
Since this summer, Monmouth County officials have been refusing to respond to otherwise legally valid OPRA requests that were submitted using our service. Previously, they had no problem with OPRAmachine, but ever since a county employee failed to properly redact confidential information, county officials have discriminated against OPRAmachine users, refusing their requests solely on the grounds that they dislike the fact that they are automatically published online.
Here is a full Rozzi Media Group press release announcing the lawsuit:
“Today we announce a bold and aggressive campaign of litigation to hold the Monmouth County government and other public agencies accountable for their blatant and repeated violations of the Open Public Records Act,” said Gavin Rozzi, creator of the website OPRAmachine.com, a free service that helps New Jersey residents paperlessly submit public records requests to state and local government agencies.
Public records requests and responses are automatically published on the site, the only of its kind that exclusively focuses on New Jersey government. Requests to the county government, prosecutor’s office and sheriff’s office have all gone unanswered since the county and its lawyers at Cleary, Giacobbe, Alfieri & Jacobs instituted a new policy over the summer that has erected additional bureaucratic hurdles.
“Monmouth County and its attorneys have manufactured an exemption to their statutory disclosure obligations out of thin air to shirk their responsibilities to the public they are supposed to serve,” Rozzi said of the county’s refusal to honor legally valid OPRA requests submitted through the service.
The county is discriminating against public records requests submitted through the service and refusing to honor them because they don’t like the fact that the public records are published online. Rozzi became involved after users reported the county’s deficient responses to their OPRA requests.
“We aim for this litigation to put the brakes on the county’s unlawful attempts to obstruct the public from obtaining records and information from their county government in a manner that contravenes the letter and spirit of the OPRA law,” added Rozzi.
The policy was introduced after county employees failed to redact bank account numbers and other personal information about Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Grammicioni and First Assistant Lori Linskey.
“The only reason the Defendants have given Plaintiffs for why they are not providing OPRA responses to OPRAmachine is that they are worried about unauthorized disclosure of records,” Walter Luers, Esq., the attorney handling the case, wrote in a court filing. “First, that is not Plaintiffs’ problem, that is Defendants’ problem.”
When pressed for specifics about the legality of the policy, Catherine Kim, one of the attorneys representing Monmouth County, failed to provide any legal justification. Kim was unable to cite which one of OPRA’s statutory or executive order exemptions authorized the county’s unprecedented attempt at hindering public access to its records.
When approached by the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office and the county counsel’s office about the mistake, Rozzi immediately took steps to correct their negligence and offered assistance.
“We chose to waive our takedown policy and immediately complied with an assistant county counsel’s request to remove private information about Prosecutor Grammicioni and his children when county employees failed to properly redact it. Sadly our accommodation has not been reciprocated by the county, and instead they now seek to throw the baby out with the bathwater and disgracefully hide from their transparency obligations,” added Rozzi.
Click here to read a June email from Assistant Monmouth County counsel Steven Kleinman thanking Rozzi for immediately taking action to correct a county employee’s failure to redact bank account information for Prosecutor Grammiccioni
“The solution to Defendants’ issues in potentially redacting documents is not to deny Plaintiffs access to records. The solution is for the Defendants to be more careful,” Luers wrote in a legal brief filed with the Monmouth County Superior Court.
“Nothing prevents any person from currently posting all information on the Internet anyway, whether that information is received via email or fax or the Post Office or any other method.”
“So, even though any requestor can request any document via any method, the Defendants have decided to punish Plaintiffs who happen to be using OPRAmachine.”
The lawsuit is being heard by Hon. Lisa P. Thornton, A.J.S.C. in Monmouth County Superior Court in Freehold. A court date has been set for November 26th.