Have you ever made an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for local police records only to be told, “We asked the county prosecutor about your request and he or she said that we must deny it.”? If the prosecutor really did say that, then he or she violated a 2006 consent order entered in the case of Deborah Jacobs v. Peter C. Harvey, et al, Docket No. L-3119-04.
I learned about this consent order after Walter Luers and I recently filed a lawsuit in Camden County. One of the defendants, the Borough of Gibbsboro, claimed that they couldn’t release a police record because the county prosecutor told them not to. After we sued both Gibbsboro and the Camden County Prosecutor, the prosecutor informed us of the consent order.
Paragraph 1 of that consent order, which is available on-line here states that in “applying the standards set forth in OPRA and any other applicable law, each municipality shall exercise its own discretion in determining whether to release documents sought through OPRA.” According to the Camden Prosecutor’s brief, which is also available at the link, ever since the consent order was entered, they have “expressly refrained from providing direction or legal advice to municipalities on OPRA issues, other than to suggest how the Prosecutor’s Office might respond if a request was made to its OPRA Coordinator.”
So, if a local clerk or police department tells you that they can’t release records because of advice given by the prosecutor, send them a copy of the consent order and tell them to seek advice from the municipal lawyer.