CJ Griffin Quoted in New Jersey Law Journal Regarding Disclosure of Settlement Agreement under OPRA


CJ Griffin, Director of the Justice Gary S. Stein Public Interest Center at Pashman Stein Walder Hayden, was mentioned in the New Jersey Law Journal article, “NJ Justices Hear Case Over County’s ‘Terminated’ Corrections Officer.” Griffin recently argued before the New Jersey Supreme Court on behalf of plaintiff Libertarians for Transparent Government in a case addressing whether a settlement agreement between a county government and a former employee resolving an internal disciplinary action against the employee is considered a government record—and not a personnel file—under Section 10 of the Open Public Records Act and therefore subject to disclosure under OPRA. The article includes some of the dialogue during the Supreme Court arguments:

CJ Griffin of Hackensack-based Pashman Stein Walder Hayden represented the plaintiff and said it is a government document that should be accessed under OPRA.

“We hope that you grant our appeal and restore the access that we’ve been used to for 30 years,” Griffin implored the justices Sept. 14 in her opening remarks….

In Tuesday’s oral arguments before the justices, Griffin maintained that the county and Ellis cut a sweetheart deal and kept the public in the dark.

“This was one was particularly devastating,” Griffin said. It “rolled back access to documents that we’ve had access to for 30 years, and that the public has done tremendous reporting with, reporting that has resulted in policy changes by the attorney general."

“And also because it came at a historic time when our nation is having a national reckoning about policing, and at a time when we have exposed prison and jail abuse,” said Griffin. “What we want is access to the actual document that should tell us the actual reason for separation.”

Justice Faustino Fernandez-Vina interjected with a question: “What is the difference between a written record and a redacted record that says the same thing?”

“Here, we didn’t get a document. We got an email,” Griffin responded. “The original document is the government record, it’s the truth. The separate document that they would draft or narrate to us is something they crafted and gave to us and would likely contain some spin.”

Justice Barry Albin: “You want to know the reasons for the separation but we have already said you are permitted to extract information as long as it falls under one of the categories. Are you looking for anything more than what the trial judge said he would give to you with redactions?”

“We are not asking for the entire document here or every personnel record with a name,” said Griffin. “We’re asking for the reason for the separation within this settlement agreement. We need to know the terms and the conditions so that we can verify that what was told to us [by the county] was accurate. But also so we can decide whether or not it was reasonable for the agency to allow this person to separate under these terms.”

To view the full article, click here.


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