CJ Griffin Quoted in NJ Spotlight News, “Concerns Remain Over OPRA Bill’s Effect on Police Accountability”

NJ Spotlight News

CJ Griffin, partner and director of the Justice Gary S. Stein Public Interest Center at Pashman Stein Walder Hayden P.C., was recently quoted in a NJ Spotlight News article titled, “Concerns Remain Over OPRA Bill’s Effect on Police Accountability”. The article discusses recent attempts by New Jersey lawmakers to gut the Open Public Records Act, which many argue would largely affect government and police transparency.

Under current New Jersey law, there are “very few police records you can actually get pursuant to OPRA,” said CJ Griffin. “Because there’s an exemption called the criminal investigatory records exemption, which exempts almost everything having to do with their investigations.”

Griffin said most of her OPRA lawsuits have concerned police records requests denied due to “ongoing investigations.” People can request certain records related to police conduct, like use-of-force reports or body-worn camera footage of officers using force, but not investigation reports or witness statements, Griffin noted.

Griffin also foresees an increase in denials of requests for information because “law enforcement agencies will know that there’s no mandatory fee shifting that allows you to challenge their denial.”

They’re going to know that the requester, whether it’s a reporter, the member of the public, is going to have a hard time [finding] an attorney that will take the case and sue for them,” Griffin said.

The attorney-fee burden is critical, said Griffin, because successful lawsuits have helped journalism organizations obtain requests and shed light on law enforcement conduct and processes, and provide “the main transparency we have around police,” she said.

Whether it’s the fact that everybody can now see the videos of every shooting that occurs, so that they can see the truth of what happened, and make up their own minds about whether they think the force was justified or not,” Griffin said. “Those are all things that happened as a result of OPRA and as a result of litigation, in particular, because police departments do not willingly release anything.”

To read the full NJ Spotlight News article, click here.


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