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Open Government Advocacy Project:
Bergen judge issues OPRA/OPMA ruling

Issue Detail:

On November 4, 2010, Bergen County Superior Court Judge Joseph S. Conte issued an unpublished decision in O'Brien v. Woodcliff Lake, et al, Docket No. BER-L-2091-10. Conte's two-page court order and thirteen-page written decision are on-line here. The decision covers several topics, some of which are set forth here: 1. Woodcliff Lake, by failing to respond to a request for a council member's e-mails within seven business days, violated the Open Public Records Act (OPRA). 2. An in camera inspection would be done on an investigative report to determine the merit of Woodcliff Lake's claim that the report is exempt from disclosure. (An "in camera inspection" is when the judge examines a record in private.) 3. The Woodcliff Lake Borough Council violated the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) by informing the public, before going into closed session, only that it would discuss matters involving "attorney/client privilege, property acquisition." Activists in Bergen County may find some of Judge Conte's rulings helpful. For example, if a resident of another Bergen County municipality finds that its council or school board similarly describes closed session discussion topics vaguely (e.g. "attorney/client privilege, property acquisition"), he or she should send it a copy of Judge Conte's decision and request compliance. The ruling--and the likelihood that the body would lose if suit was brought--might convince the erring body to modify its OPMA procedure without need for litigation. Also, the plaintiff in this matter, Kevin O'Brien, is not an attorney and filed this action pro se. His success will hopefully encourage other open government activists to consider filing similar suits, when necessary, in their own localities. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey




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