Archive - Legal Hotline - Access to Public Records
Because the law is constantly evolving, it is important before relying
upon any opinion on this website that you check with the hotline counsel
to ascertain whether or not there has been any subsequent change or
supplementation to the law since the date of the opinion.
Answers provided by
NJPA Access to Public
Nov. 25, 2003
Are documents related to contract negotiations, for example, a
consultant’s report prepared for the negotiations, available to the
No. The Open Public Records Act specifically exempts contract
Nov. 3, 2003
If a record is exempt from disclosure under OPRA, can a custodian
nonetheless release it to the public?
Yes. OPRA sets the minimum information that must be disclosed. A
custodian may release additional information at any time.
Nov. 3, 2003
Are police reports open to public inspection?
Police reports that are not “criminal investigatory records” are
open under the Open Public Records Act. “Criminal investigatory
records” are those records that are “not required by law to be made,
maintained or kept on file” but are “held by law enforcement agency”
and “pertains to any criminal investigation or related law
Oct. 31, 2003
Does the Open Public Records Act permit the newspaper to find out
why an individual was fired from a public position?
Under OPRA, specifically NJSA 47:1A-10, the date of separation and
the reasons therefore are public information, accessible to the
Oct. 27, 2003
The local police refused to release information over the weekend as
to an arrest for a stabbing that occurred on a Friday. Is this
No. Under the Open Public Records Act, the police must release the
basic information as to crimes and arrests within 24 hours of the
request “or as soon as practicable.” The fact that the crime
occurred over the weekend does not permit the police to withhold the
information until the next business day.
Oct. 10, 2003
Are police reports open to public inspection?
Some police departments consider police reports to be criminal
investigatory reports which may be withheld from the public.
Sept. 15, 2003
Is the municipal budget available for public inspection once it is
introduced even though it may later be revised?
Yes. Once the budget is prepared, it is a government record under
OPRA and pursuant to NJSA 47:1A-5(e), it is to be immediately
Sept. 4, 2003
Are police incident reports and police arrest reports open to the
Incident reports, where the police respond but no further action is
taken and no arrest has been made, are open. Arrest reports, because
they involve ongoing investigations are not accessible.
Sept. 2, 2003
Are state representatives under any obligation to reveal their
medical status or health problems?
No. The Open Public Records Act specifically exempts any personal
medical information and no other law requires such disclosure.
July 14, 2003
Are divorce records open to the public?
Yes, all court records are open unless sealed by law (for example,
adoption records) or are specifically sealed by the court. Divorce
records are open but if they involve children, the court may seal
those parts of the record.
July 9, 2003
May a public entity keep a litigation settlement agreement
No. In an unpublished decision in 2001 a judge in Atlantic County
required the county to provide a New Jersey newspaper with a copy of
a “confidential” settlement agreement finding that the information
was public under the terms of the Local Fiscal Affairs Law and the
Right to Know Law. Under the Open Public Records Act, the settlement
is a government record and there is no exception for “confidential”
agreements. In short, a public entity cannot, by agreement, render
government records inaccessible to the public.
July 9, 2003
Can the New Jersey Department of Health deny access to a list
referring to the location of the occurrence of diseases and their
cause fatalities because it might reveal the cause of death?
No. A statistical listing of the locations of disease outbreaks does
not reveal information about any particular person.
July 9, 2003
As part of the state oversight of Camden, a review of the municipal
court was undertaken. Is the report about the court a government
record open for inspection?
Maybe. If the report was ordered by the courts, it is not subject to
OPRA because OPRA does not govern the courts. If the report was
ordered by the state, it is a government record open to inspection
but may be exempt from disclosure if it is part of an ongoing
June 25, 2003
The police released the name of a juvenile charged with drunk
driving. May the newspaper print the name?
Yes. Information obtained lawfully, in this case from the police,
may be published.
June 2, 2003
If a municipal attorney hires a consultant to review data on behalf
of the municipality, is that consultant’s report public under OPRA?
If the report is solely to assist the attorney in advising his
client, it may be protected as attorney work product.
May 16, 2003
Are 911 tapes open to inspection by the press and the public?
Yes. Two recent appellate court decisions have found that 911 tapes
are government records under the Open Public Records Act. The courts
recognized, however, that there may be instances where the release
may jeopardize the investigation or the rights of the persons
involved and noted the custodian could seek to have the tapes
May 5, 2003
Are resumes of applicants for the position of chief of police
available to the public under the Open Public Records Act?
Under Executive Order 26, signed by Gov. McGreevey on August 12,
2002, resumes and/or applications are not available while the hiring
process is ongoing. Once a person has been hired, the resume of the
successful candidate is open. However, the resumes of the
unsuccessful candidates are only open if the candidate permits.
April 2, 2003
May a newspaper print allegations from a civil complaint against
The newspaper may report upon documents filed in court although
there is some case law that indicates that a recitation of
allegations in a complaint must be accompanied by the defendant’s
answer or statement in reply to be fair and accurate and therefore
Feb. 28, 2003
Are records of who has been issued a permit to carry a handgun
available under OPRA?
No. An administrative regulation, NJAC 13:54-1.15, specifically
makes such records confidential and declares the records are not
Jan. 29, 2003
May a municipality withhold the terms of a litigation settlement on
the basis that the plaintiff will not agree to its release?
Under OPRA, the settlement should be available and the plaintiff in
the suit has no right to withhold the terms from the public. The
suit may have been settled under a confidentiality agreement. There
is a court decision holding that settlements by public agencies may
not be made confidential but if the settlement was nonetheless made
subject to such an agreement, then the municipality may be
withholding the settlement, subject to the plaintiff' consent to
avoid a suit asserting it breached the agreement. In that case the
newspaper may have to initiate suit to gain access.
Jan. 29, 2003
May the newspaper obtain the death certificate for an inmate who
died in custody?
Under OPRA, the cause of death would be blacked out. There is a
health department regulation that prohibits the release of the cause
of death. However the record may be available under the common law
if the need for access outweighs the need for confidentiality. One
court has granted access in the case of an inmate dying in custody.
Shuttlesworth v. Camden 258 N.J. Super. 573 (App. Div. 1992).
Jan 21, 2003
Are health dept reports listing the incidences of cancer and the
locations of the person diagnosed exempt from OPRA?
Yes. NJSA 26:2-107 makes the reports confidential and therefore they
are exempt under OPRA.
Jan. 21, 2003
Are the police required or permitted to black out addresses on
incident reports provided to the media?
No. If a crime has been reported or committed the police are
required to provide the location of the incident.
Jan. 21, 2003
Are death certificates public records?
Yes, although the registrar may delete the social security number
and cause of death from the document before providing it.
Nov. 22, 2002
Are public bodies permitted to enter “confidential” settlements and
withhold the terms of the settlement from the public?
Nothing in the Open Public Records Act permits a public body to
withhold such information. In fact, in a case under the old Right to
Know Law, a New Jersey newspaper sought records of a settlement of
an employee’s sexual harassment suit against Atlantic County and the
court found that the county could not keep records of the settlement
secret, despite a confidentiality agreement in the settlement.
Nov. 22, 2002
A police officer and fireman in the same town got into an
altercation and the police officer made a formal report of the
incident. Is that report available?
If the police department plans to investigate the incident, it may
treat the report as part of an investigation in progress and
withhold it from the public. If it will be treated as an incident
report, it should be made available.
Nov. 1, 2002
Under OPRA must a person requesting a copy of a bill have the bill
or invoice number or can the request be made for bills paid to a
The request for bills paid to a specific vendor should be enough.
Oct. 18, 2002
Is the contract of a superintendent of schools a public record and
accessible under the Open Public Records Act?
Yes, although social security number will be blacked out.
Oct. 18, 2002
Are toxicology reports from the medical examiners office public
records and accessible under the Open Public Records Act?
Yes, only autopsy photographs are exempt.
Sept. 3, 2002
Are the resumes of all applicants for the position of a public high
school superintendent available under OPRA?
A review of the latest Executive Order, No. 26, of Governor
McGreevey indicates that under Paragraph 3 thereof only the resume
of the successful applicant shall be made available - after
appointment/date of hiring. The resumes of unsuccessful candidates
may be disclosed after the search has been concluded and the
position has been filled, but only where the unsuccessful candidate
has consented to such disclosure.
Aug. 26, 2002
Are complaints with the police internal affairs department open to
public inspection under OPRA?
Internal affairs records are confidential, not open to the public.
Aug. 23, 2002
A public body advised it could not provide copies of attorney bills
because that would require it to compile records. Is this correct?
No. The Open Public Records Act specifically makes attorney bills
and invoices submitted to a public agency for payment open to the
public (with any privileged material removed). NJSA 47:1A-1.1.
Aug. 15, 2002
Are police blotters open to inspection under OPRA?
Police blotters may be public records open to access under the Open
Public Records Act, NJSA 47:1A-1 et seq. However, an argument can be
made that they are in some occasions "criminal investigatory
OPRA exempts "criminal investigatory records" which are defined as
"a record which is not required by law to be made, maintained or
kept on file that is held by a law enforcement agency which pertains
to any criminal investigation or related civil enforcement
proceeding." My understanding is that the police blotter is simply a
listing of calls to which the department responds. This record may
then be merely a business record and not an investigatory record. It
should, under this theory, be accessible.
The police may, however, argue that the blotter, depending upon the
information contained therein, may be related to a criminal
investigation and therefore not open to inspection. Unfortunately
there is no clear answer.
Of course, information related to a report of a crime or an arrest
for a crime must, under OPRA and Executive Order 69 signed by Gov.
Whitman, be provided within 24 hours of the request for such
Aug. 15, 2002
Are 911 tapes public records under OPRA? Are they exempt as criminal
911 tapes are public records and are not exempt. Even if the records
become relevant to an investigation, OPRA specifically states that
records that were available before an investigation commenced remain
July 23, 2002
Are vouchers and invoices available for inspection under the Open
Public Records Act?
Yes. In fact the law states the "budgets, bills, vouchers,
contracts" shall "ordinarily" be immediately available.
July 22, 2002
Are briefs filed with the court open to the public?
Yes. Under the rules of the court, unless documents are sealed by
specific court order by existing rules of the court or law, for
example juvenile records, they are open to the public.
July 16, 2002
Does OPRA permit non-disclosure of fees paid to the public defender
on behalf of a particular client?
NO. OPRA exempts files held by the public defender but refers to
this case files. Attorney fees paid by a public agency are
specifically made public.
July 16, 2002
Are autopsy reports public records?
Yes. The Open Public Records Act exempts autopsy photos but the
reports are public records.
July 8, 2002
Are 911 tapes public records? If so are they exempt from disclosure
because they form part of an ongoing investigation?
911 tapes are public records, and they are not exempt because they
are held as part of an investigation. Under the Open Public Records
Act, NJSA 47:1A-1 et seq., the section limiting access to records of
investigations in progress state: This provision shall not be
construed to allow any public agency to prohibit access to a record
of that agency that was open for public inspection, examination, or
copying before the investigation commenced." NJSA 47:1A-3(a).
May 30, 2002
What statute should be referenced when making a request for records?
The Right to Know Law, NJSA 47:1a-1 et. seq., to be known after July
8, 2002 as the Open Public Records Act.
Are police accident reports available to the public? If so are they
still open if the accident results in a fatality?
Yes. NJSA 39:4-131 states that police accident reports, the form reports
later forwarded to the DMV, are open to public inspection and copying
and "the information therein shall not be privileged or held
confidential". In addition, if a crime was committed the police are
required by Executive Order 69, signed by Gov. Whitman in 1997 requires
the police provide certain information as to the incident, the who, what
why, when basic information.
May a public body make a confidential settlement of a civil litigation?
A recent Court decision indicates that such settlements should not be
confidential. In December an Atlantic County Judge held that Atlantic
County was required to reveal the terms of a settlement of a sexual
harassment litigation. In a suit brought by The Press of Atlantic City
for access to the settlement terms the Court reasoned that the Local
Fiscal Affairs Law and the Right to Know required that any expenditures
by the County were open to public inspection, thus the monies paid out
to settle the suit were not to be confidential.
Are Tort Claims Notices on file with the municipality public records
under the current law and the new Open Public Records Act? Does did
change the result that the claim is for sexual harassment?
Under the current law Tort Claim Notices are public records because they
are required by law to be made, maintained and kept on file. Under the
new law they will also be public records. The result does not change if
the claim is sexual harassment. Under the new law, the Open Public
Records Act, sexual harassment claims are protected from disclosure only
when the claim remains within the department. For example a complaint
made to a supervisor under a sexual harassment policy is protected. Once
the claim goes outside those channels however, when a tort claim notice
is filed, when a complaint is made to the Division on Civil Rights or to
the courts, the records are open to access.
May 31, 2002
Are criminal motion briefs in the United States District Court open to
Unless sealed the briefs should be available. The Clerk’s office takes
the position that briefs are not part of the public record to be
maintained by his office or accessible from his office. Generally in
District Court copies must be obtained from the parties.
May 30, 2002
Question: Are e-mails, sent between members of a public body
government records? If so may a newspapers that comes into possession of
such emails publish them?
Answer: Under the current law
the emails are probably not statutory public records because they are
not "required to be made, maintained, or kept on file" by any
law. They are, however, common law public records. Under the new Open
Public Records Act the emails will be statutory public records. If the
newspaper has copies of these records they may publish them, generally
any documents the newspaper lawfully obtains may be published. Caution
should be taken to insure the emails were written and sent by they
person who is purported to have sent them.
May 30, 2002
What statute should be referenced when making a request for records?
The Right to Know Law, NJSA 47:1a-1 et. seq., to be known after July 8,
2002 as the Open Public Records Act.
Is there a time frame in which a public agency must provide copies of public records?
The statute does not require a response in a specific time period. The statute states that the records should be "readily accessible" and that a citizen shall have the right to inspect the records "during regular business
May 4, 2001
If a business files an application or document with the municipality is that application/document open to public inspection?
If the application/document is required to be "made, maintained, or kept on file" it is a statutory public record and open to inspection.
Are tort claim notices filed with the municipality public records?
Yes. Pursuant to statute a tort claims notice must be filed with a
municipality prior to filing suit against the municipality. Since they
are required by law to be made and kept on file they are public records
under the Right to Know Law.
Are the numbers of cell phones owned by the county and assigned to
officials and/or employees available?
Yes. Although there is a New Jersey Supreme Court case that declares
that itemized telephone bills are not open for inspection, the basis of
that decision was to protect the communications between legislators and
their constituents. There is no reason to withhold the numbers of
telephones owned by the county.
May the police bar a photographer from the scene of an
Yes. The New Jersey Supreme Court determined in State v. Lashinsky,
81 NJ 1 (1979) that the police or fire department had the right to
control the scene of an accident or emergency, the exercise of such
control did not infringe upon the First Amendment.
the police prohibited from releasing the name of a juvenile
of a car accident?
No. There is no legal reason why the name should not be released,
the police may withhold the name until the parents of the
have been notified.
April 18, 2001
Is there a statutory requirement that records be held by the
custodian for a specific period of time?
Yes. NJSA 47:3-9 sets forth the period of retention for different types of records held by county clerks or and/or registers of deeds.
January 25, 2001
Are formal complaints to the Dept. of Health public records?
Any records required by law to be "made, maintained, or kept on file"
are public records under the current public records law. Complaints to the Dept of Health would fall into this category unless exempted by
some other law, rule of regulation. If access is denied the Dept should specify the reason for the denial including the citation to the rule,
regulation or law permitting the denial.
January 4, 2001
Is a municipality's settlement of sexual harassment charges
filed by an employee of the municipality a public record if the
matter was settled before any litigation was filed?
Any record of monies paid out by the municipality should be
accessible to the public. A request for the record should be made
under both the statutory Right to Know, NJSA 47:1A-1 and the
common law. Under the statute only those records required to be
"made, maintained or kept on file" are public records but the common law permits access to almost all records where the right to know, when balanced against the need for privacy, favors access. It is best to
request the records under both theories.
December 7, 2000
Received a call RE: obtaining a coroners report regarding an
alleged suicide of mayor, which occurred about 3 years ago.
Reporter wanted to know what his rights to such a report were
and some suggestions as to how he should go about it.
I advised to put his request in writing, or phone with a follow-up in
writing, so that there is a record of it. I also advised him that he would
probably have a right to the records under the Right To Know Law, Title 47. I assume that a coroners report is required by law to be
created and/or maintained and, as such, it would be subject to the Right To Know Law. But I did advise him that if there were another
statute or a properly passed agency regulation, or a Governors Executive Order excepting such reports from public access under the
Right To Know Law, they would not be accessible under that statute (Title 47).
In such a case, however, I advised him that he would still have
available the Common Law Right To Know and he could pursue that,
although it would probably necessitate litigation.
I told the reporter to go ahead and put his request in writing and then
see what the coroner says. If the coroner refuses his request, I told him that he ought to get specific reasons for the basis of such a denial
and then get back to me and we can evaluate it further from that point on whether its Right To Know Law or Common Law Right.
I did mention that with respect to the Common Law Right To Know,
the longer the period of time from the date of the Mayors death to the date of the request, the lesser concern for privacy, I would think; thus,
the passage of 3 years assists us in the weighing process under a Common Law test.
December 6, 2000
Is the Delaware River and Bay Authority subject to New Jersey law
for purposes of the Right to Know Law?
It is unclear. The legislation creating the Authority, NJSA 32:11E-1, Article IV,
makes the Authority an agency of the State of New Jersey as well as of the
State of Delaware. However, the Authority is a hybrid agency that is permitted, to a certain extent, to create its own rules and regulation. Since
the court has held that employees who work in the state of New Jersey for the Authority must be treated in accordance with New Jersey labor law, a
good argument can be made that the Authority is subject to New Jersey law
including the Right to Know Law.
October 24, 2000
Are there specified costs for copies of common law public records?
No. The costs set forth in the public records law are for copies of statutory
public records. Fees for reproduction of common law public records are to be
reasonably related to the actual cost of reproduction under the NJ Supreme
Court decision in Higg-a-Rella v. County of Essex, 141 N.J. 35 (1995)
June 13, 2000
What information concerning crimes must the police provide?
Under Executive Order 69, signed by Gov. Whitman in May 1997, the police must provide basic information regarding the circumstances of the crime,
identifying the accused (if an arrest has been made), the text of any charges
and the circumstances of the arrest, and, in most circumstances, identifying
April 20, 2000
Are domestic violence records public records?
No. Under N.J.S.A. 2C:25-33 all court records of domestic violence are confidential. See also Pepe v. Pepe 258 N.J. Super. 157 (1992).
November 1, 1999
Do documents become accessible to the public when they are
introduced at trial?
Yes. Any documents which become part of the court record become open to inspection unless
sealed by the court. For example a police report which might not be accessible would become
part of the record if introduced as an exhibit at trial, it would be open to inspection just as if it
were a complaint.
September 14, 1999
Are complaints filed in Municipal Court public records open to
Yes. The Rules of Court which govern all New Jersey courts declare that all papers filed with the court are public records open to public inspection unless specifically sealed by the court.
August 27, 1999
What are the standards for media access to juvenile
Under statute, NJSA 2A:4A-60(i), a member of the news media may
request permission of the court to be present during juvenile
proceedings. The court should grant the request unless it finds "a
substantial likelihood that specific harm to the juvenile" would result.
The burden is upon the juvenile to show a substantial likelihood of
harm and the harm must be specific to that juvenile. The court has
held that the embarrassment of having the charges known to the
public and/or any harassment that may result from the public having
that information is not "specific", it is the harm suffered by all
defendants, and thus it will not form the basis for denying access.
State in the Interest of K.P. 311 NJ Super 123 (Ch. Div. 1997).
July 2, 1999
May the county jail use a 1-900 telephone number, at a charge
of $1.00 per minute, to release information as to specific prisoners?
Nothing in the law prohibits the county from doing so.
June 29, 1999
The prosecutor's office is investigating a car accident involving a
police officer. Can the newspaper obtain a copy of the initial police
report under the public record law?
The accident report is a public record under both the statutory Right to Know
Law and the common law. However the statute contains an exemption for records of an investigation in progress and the prosecutor and the local police
will probably invoke the exemption. The report therefore is unlikely to be
available until after the investigation is completed.
June 28, 1999
A reporter indicated that he's writing a story on protracted
ongoing litigation between a school board and contractors who
constructed a building for the school board. Apparently, the
school board is claiming that the contractors did not meet the
specifications in the bid before constructing the building in
question and maybe even that the building has defects. In any
event and in order to complete the picture, the reporter has
asked the school board to send him copies of payments of past
bills for their counsel. The school board is arguing that they do
not have to afford him that information inasmuch as that would
reveal their trial strategy.
The records of the bills are mandated by law and he should have an
absolute right to them under Title 47. We know of no regulations, etc. which would exempt them from public access. Moreover, the reporter
is correct in that the school board's affording the public the knowledge of how much they have paid for legal bills would not work a revelation
as to trial strategy. That argument is specious. Moreover, even if a municipality or local board asked for copies of itemized bills, they still
have to turn them over -- regardless of whether or not strategy is included therein. There have been previous cases as to that. In any
event, there would appear to be no valid reason for the board refusing the information requested.
June 24, 1999
Does a newspaper have rights to obtain record information
from a municipality as to whether or not a specific employee
worked on a specific date? The newspaper has information that
the employee was at another job site on the particular date
that is being inquired about. The newspaper is investigating
whether or not there's any scam or fraud being constituted by
the employee against the municipality.
The newspaper has an absolute right to this information under the
Right To Know Law if those records are mandated to be kept by State statute. The only exception to that would be if the mandating statute
exempted these records from being public records under the Right To Know Law or if there's some State regulation or Governor's Executive
Order which would exempt them.
The newspaper has Common Law rights to these records -- if the
records were kept in the ordinary course of business of the
municipality, whether or not mandated. The Common Law right can be subject to a balancing test-- i.e., the public's interest in
knowing balanced against the employee's need for privacy.
The newspaper will go ahead and make the request of the municipality along these lines.
June 22, 1999
A newspaper would like to get copies of letters written by the
Prosecutor's Office wherein the Prosecutor's Office wrote to the
County Administrator asking for steps to remedy conditions of mold in
the office wherein the Prosecutor and his staff, etc. are located. What rights would the newspaper have to obtain these letters or copies
There are two avenues of approach:
(1) Title 47. Under the Right To Know Law, NJSA 47:1A-1 et. seq., any
records that the Prosecutor's Office are mandated to keep must be made available to the public without exception, save for any regulations, Governor's
executive order, or the like which exempts them. I advised that I am not sure
whether or not there is a mandate--legislative or otherwise--that the Prosecutor's Office keep these kind of letters. But in the
paper's request for them, it seems to me proper for it to assume that there is
and let the Prosecutor's Office advise if there is not. Of course, if the Prosecutor's Office agrees that keeping these records is mandated but that
there is some regulation which exempts them from public access, let the
Prosecutor's Office cite the regulation and that can be checked out.
(2) Common Law Right. The public and newspapers have access to all
records kept by the Prosecutor's Office in the course of their business except
where there are reasons for matters of personal privacy or investigations being in jeopardy, or the like that would balance against that. One would
assume that there are no privacy concerns or investigation concerns present
here to balance against the public's right to access. In any event, I advised
that the paper should make its letter of request for these records under both
rights--the right to know and common law.
June 21, 1999
A local municipality has had an outside firm conduct an audit of its
books. The audit report has now been turned over to the municipality. Is the audit report a public record?
Maybe. If the audit was required by law the report is a statutory public record
under the right to Know Law. The Right to Know Law defines a public record
as any record that is required by law to be "made, maintained, or kept on file"
by a public agency. If the audit was not required by law it is a common law
public record and should be available for public inspection provided there is
no argument that the report contains confidential information that supports a
need for non-disclosure. The resolution authorizing the hiring of the outside
firm should state the purpose of the audit, whether it was required by law.
May newspapers take a photo of private property (a back yard) from
adjoining property when the adjoining property owner gives consent?
Yes. So long as the photographer is legally on the property (such as a public
sidewalk) or on the property with the consent of the owner a photo may be taken of anything that can be seen from that spot.
A photo that unreasonably intrudes however, such as a photo in a window with a telephoto lens so as to
see things the naked eye could not see, would probably not be similarly protected.
June 17, 1999
The newspaper has obtained a copy of a restraining order and the
report of the arrest for violation of the order. May the newspaper use the materials even though they originated in Domestic Court?
Yes. The documents are public records and the newspaper may report upon them. Domestic court records are not automatically sealed; there must be a
motion to seal and a hearing just as in any court matter.
June 16, 1999
May the newspaper quote court documents or a public official as to
matters in court and of public concern?
Yes. As long as the statements are fair and accurate the newspaper is afforded a qualified privilege to report and anyone seeking to sue in libel must
prove actual malice, that is that the newspaper knew what it was publishing
November 25, 1998
The paper raised a question pertaining to a report that was
commissioned by the county in connection with the collapse of a
wharf on the waterfront. The paper indicated that subsequent to the
collapse, the county caused a report to be prepared to discuss what
caused the collapse and who may be responsible. Apparently, the
county discussed the report in closed session and refused to release
I advised the paper that under the Access to Public Records statute, the report would not be a statutory public record since there is not statute
requiring the preparation of same. I also advised that it was a common law
public record but that given the fact it was a common law public record, there
had to be a weighing between the interest of the public in seeing the record
and the need of the public entity in keeping the record confidential.
The paper advised the county was asserting a need to keep the record confidential in order that it might assess who may be responsible to make
necessary repairs. I indicated that at the common law, a line had to be drawn
and in the first instance it was the function of the public entity to strike that
balance and draw the line. If the paper disagreed with that, the paper had the
option of trying to persuade the public entity that where it drew the line was
incorrect or, ultimately, litigating the issue.
November 19 1998
Is the annual audit of a school district completed by the State a public
Under the Right to Know Law, any record which is required by law to be "made, maintained, or kept on file" is a public record subject to public
inspection. If the audit is required by statute, then it is a public record. An
exception would exist where the record has been exempted from the Right to
Know Law by some other law, executive order of the Governor, or departmental regulation. The government body
withholding the record should state if it is doing so under an exemption and, if so, which one.
November 9, 1998
Inquiring newspaper is about to embark on a public access project
and asked four basic questions which are as follows:
(1) Is there anything in the Open Public Records Law that requires a request to be in writing?
We advised that the statute is silent as to whether or not a request must be
in writing and consequently a court would not, in our judgment, prohibit a
municipality from requiring requests to be in writing.
(2) Does the Access to Public Records statute require a person to
identify themselves in order to access records?
We advised that the statutory right to access does not have a specific
identification requirement although the statute indicates that the right of
access granted thereby are accorded to "citizens of this State." Thus, a public
agency could argue that it needs identification in order to verify that an
individual is a citizen of New Jersey.
(3) Are police logs statutory public records as such are maintained?
We advised that since there is no requirement that the "police log" be
maintained, it is not a public record. We further advised that Executive Order
69 entitles a person to receive information but not to see the underlying document.
(4) Is there any time frame within which a public agency must
respond to a request for access?
We advised the statute is silent as to a time frame for a response and thus a
court would impose a rule of reasonableness, i.e. the public agency had a reasonable time to respond to the request. What constitutes a reasonable
time will, of course, be a function of the volume and extent of the request.
October 23 1998
Is a report, created by the Department of Banking and Insurance and
maintained by the Administrative Office of the Courts ("AOC") a
The Right to Know Law defines as public records any record required by law
to be "made, maintained, or kept on file". This does not however apply to the
courts. Court proceedings are governed by the rules of court which mandate
the all court proceedings be open to the public. This rule also requires that
records associated with the open proceedings be open. The rule does not address other records maintained by the court. Thus it appears that the
records may only be obtained under the common law.
The common law requires a balancing test between the public right to know and the need for privacy of the records. This test is fact sensitive and
depends upon the circumstances of each case.
October 22 1998
The local police chief reserves unto himself the authority to release
information regarding crimes. When he comes on vacation he fails to
appoint another person and the newspapers cannot get any
information until he returns. Is this proper under the law?
No. Executive Order 69, executed by Gov. Whitman in May 1997 states that information related to crimes "shall be available to the public within 24 hours,
or sooner if practicable". The delay in the release of information for a week or
more while the chief is on vacation would be a violation of the Executive Order. In fact, the Order requires the prosecutors office to designate an
individual to be available after hours to respond to information requests. If a
problem arises with a specific local police officer, the county prosecutor is
empowered to settle any disputes and the problem should be brought to his or her attention.
October 20, 1998
When the municipality requires that certain applications to the
building inspector and/or planning board first undergo review by an
advisory board, the historic preservation commission, are the
applications to the historic preservation commission open to public
If there is a municipal ordinance which requires that the application be made
to the board then the application is a public record. The right to Know Law
holds that every document which is required to be "made, maintained, or kept" by law is a public record. Thus if by municipal ordinance the application
is required to be submitted it is a public record.
September 27 1998
Where the court has sealed the files in a civil suit arising out of a
criminal conviction. Does that seal the criminal records as well?
The contents of the Order dictates what documents are sealed. The court
should be able to advise the reporter what documents are sealed if the Order
itself is not open to review. The common law requires a balancing test between the public right to know and the need for privacy of the records. This
test is fact sensitive and depends upon the circumstances of each case.
August 13, 1998
The Judge in a Family Court matter regarding a custody dispute
between gay partners has sealed the record and refused to provide
any information as to his decision. Similar cases are pending in three
other counties and in those actions the court has permitted limited
access to the proceedings and/or decisions on the agreement by
those present that no identifying information would be released. Is
there any mechanism by which the court can be compelled to release
In Family Court matters, and especially in custody matters, the courts are
granted a great deal of discretion in the release of information. Custody matters are usually closed and there is no mechanism to compel production of
case records. Since this action encompasses a new area of the law, the court
may be persuaded to release its decision with all identifying information removed. The reporter should make the court aware of the other pending
cases and the measures taken by the Judges in those cases to insure the privacy of the parties in a formal request for the court decision. The
knowledge that other courts have been able to deal with the issue of privacy,
while permitting access to the court decisions, may persuade this Judge to do
May 4, 1998
May the newspaper print the name of a juvenile convicted of a
misdemeanor when it obtained the name from the court docket listing
posted outside the courtroom? Answer: Yes. The United States
Supreme Court has determined a newspaper may print information
related to juveniles when it obtains the information lawfully.
Yes. The United States Supreme Court has determined a newspaper may print information related to juveniles when it obtains the information lawfully.
April 21, 1998
Does the law permit a police department to keep confidential arrest
information when the arrested individual is a police officer? Are
records in family court automatically sealed?
There is no provision in the law which permits a police department to fail or
refuse to release information of the arrest of a police officer. The arrest
information is to be provided pursuant to Executive Order 69 executed by Governor Whitman in May 1997. As to the family court, matters affecting
juveniles and the records of those proceedings are generally closed.
matters, however, for example matrimonial actions, are open and only sealed
when the court makes specific findings of a need to seal the record. (The potential embarrassment to the parties is not a sufficient reason to seal the
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