New Jersey court allows 3rd-party open records requests
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Citizens are allowed to seek public records of similar requests filed by others, a New Jersey appeals court ruled Friday in a case that touched on the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal.
The case is the latest in the ongoing debate over which government records are considered public and which can be kept confidential.
The plaintiffs had sought public records requests filed to numerous state agencies. One plaintiff requested all public records requests connected to the George Washington Bridge lane-closing case, in which two former aides of Republican Gov. Chris Christie and an official of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey were charged with creating traffic jams to punish a Democratic mayor who didn’t endorse Christie.
Christie’s office and numerous state agencies had sought to reverse a judge’s ruling granting the requests. They argued New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act doesn’t require them to give the plaintiffs access to third-party OPRA requests. They cited a previous appeals court ruling in a case involving federal subpoenas in Middlesex County that they said buttressed their argument.
On Friday, the appeals court wrote the earlier ruling wasn’t relevant and that the public records act doesn’t exempt third-party requests.
New Jersey’s public records laws exempt certain documents from public access, including records of criminal investigations, trade secrets, personal firearms records and certain emergency or security information.
They also exempt, in some cases, information which, if disclosed, would give an advantage to competitors or bidders. But that didn’t justify the blanket rejection of the requests made by the plaintiffs in this case, the panel wrote.
Some other states’ public records laws allow citizens to seek third-party requests, according to Bruce Rosen, an attorney who argued on the plaintiffs’ side and who has also represented media companies including The Associated Press.
The Port Authority, which as a bistate agency isn’t governed by the laws of New York or New Jersey, publishes responses to public records requests on its website.