Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Governor's Office Told to Id Records on Staff Departures

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Governor's Office Told to Id Records on Staff Departures

Article excerpt

A New Jersey Superior Court judge on Wednesday gave the Christie administration three weeks to certify which documents it has explaining the reasons why members of the governor's staff left their jobs earlier this year, rejecting the state's position that it was not required to do so under the Open Public Records Act.

Judge Mary Jacobson, the assignment judge in Mercer County, who handles most OPRA cases involving the state government, ruled that the state violated the OPRA law by refusing to provide documents requested by The Record in its coverage of the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal.

In addition, the judge granted an award of attorney fees to The Record. Jennifer Borg, the general counsel for North Jersey Media Group, which publishes the newspaper, said the amount of attorney fees could not be calculated until the case is concluded with the actual production of the requested documents.

In a similar development, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the agency that operates the bridge, took steps Wednesday to make its records more transparent and accessible to public scrutiny.

The Port Authority agreed at its monthly board meeting to change its bylaws, now requiring the agency to apply New Jersey's OPRA law or New York's Freedom of Information Law to record requests, whichever law is more favorable to disclosure.

In The Record's OPRA case, Borg said, the judge ordered the governor's office "to provide certification as to what documents they have. We still don't know what records exist, because the state refuses to identify them."

Borg said that a summary provided by Christie's office in three spreadsheets did not satisfy the OPRA demand for the records.

"They did not make that summary by memory, and the judge agreed we are entitled to the underlying records," Borg said, noting that the OPRA law pertains to records, not information.

The case centered on two OPRA requests delivered to the state by Record Staff Writer Melissa Hayes, calling for records about current and former employees of the governor's office. …

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