CJ Griffin Quoted in Star-Ledger Editorial Board Opinion “A Case Study on the Damage Done by Government Secrecy”

The Star-Ledger

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 Star-Ledger Editorial Board Opinion titled, “A Case Study on the Damage Done by Government Secrecy.” The opinion discusses recent proposed changes to the Open Public Records Act by New Jersey officials, which aim to limit the public’s access to OPRA.

The culture of New Jersey’s government is to reflexively deny legitimate requests for public records, and as many as half of these denials include language claiming vagueness, even if they know exactly what you’re seeking, says CJ Griffin.

Often, records requests will be denied solely on the vagueness of the request, especially when trying to get emails or text messages between public officials. “They’ll never be satisfied that you were specific enough, because they really just don’t want those records to be released,” Griffin says.

Internal emails that were accessed by OPRA requests have tipped reporters off to some of the biggest stories and scandals in the past, like Bridgegate. Luckily for transparency advocates, most judges usually don’t entertain the vagueness excuse, because it’s so rare that a request is truly not specific enough, Griffin says. But one of the worst aspects of Sarlo’s bill would codify this nonsense, removing the standard of “reasonable clarity”, and instead having to name the specific person involved, subject matter and time frame, rather than just a title or department.

So, you wouldn’t be able to get text messages exchanged between two council members during a public meeting where they’re not supposed to have private conversations, because you don’t know what the subject matter is – which is exactly what you’re trying to find out, Griffin notes.

If the government can just communicate with each other secretly, that’s a huge transparency loss,” Griffin says.

To read the full opinion, click here.


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