The New Jersey Supreme Court decided it would hear a dispute between Galloway Township and the New Jersey public-records advocate and blogger John Paff over the state’s Open Public Records Act.
The conflict is over the access of electronic records under OPRA.
What is not in dispute is that Paff made an electronic request for information.
Paff’s side is that what he wants is a search for information that is already being maintained by the township and is not a new record. The township’s side is that to fulfill Paff’s request it would have to create a new document electronically.
OPRA does not require a government entity to create new records in response to an OPRA request.
Paff, of Somerset, made an OPRA request to show emails sent between the township’s police chef and the clerk between June 3 and 17, 2013. Paff wanted to see the sender, recipient, date and subject of those emails.
The trial court ruled in favor of Paff and ordered the township to provide Paff the list. Galloway Township took the case to the state’s Appellate Division, who agreed with the municipality’s interpretation of the law and reversed the trial court decision.
The New Jersey Supreme Court decided the case is worthy enough to listen to and make a ruling on.
Increasingly, more and more information is being kept on government computers where there is no corresponding paper reports to retrieve, said Paff, chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Police Accountability Project.
“The question is what is a record. I would argue the computer database is a record,” Paff said. “Hopefully, the court will rule that the citizenry will have the same access.”
Michael J. Fitzgerald, the solicitor for Galloway Township, said this is a very important issue for OPRA requesters and local governments.
“I would expect that in several months, there is a chance it will be heard. Oral arguments could be within a couple of months. It may issue a decision quickly. It’s up to their schedule,” Fitzgerald said.
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey are on Paff’s side of the issue, and The New Jersey League of Municipalities and the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police are siding with the township, Fitzgerald said.