On June 30, 2016, Passaic County Judge Thomas F. Brogan will hear an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) lawsuit that challenges William Paterson University’s denial of records that would reveal the amount of a settlement that resolved a civil case against the University.
At issue is the settlement of William J. Brennan v. William Paterson College, Federal Case No. 2:11-cv-06101 in which Brennan sued the University for refusing to air his programming on two local cable television channels. On March 15, 2016, the federal court issued an order dismissing Brennan’s lawsuit because it “has been settled” and on March 31, 2016, Libertarians for Transparent Government, a NJ Nonprofit Corporation (LFTG) filed an OPRA request for both the formal settlement agreement as well as informal settlement communications between the parties if a formal settlement agreement had yet to be executed. William Paterson contended that since a formal settlement agreement signed by all parties did not yet exist, it was under no legal duty to provide informal settlement correspondence that revealed the amount and terms of settlement.
LFTG’s position, as articulated in the lawsuit and brief filed by Richard M. Gutman of Montclair, is, in essence, that while litigation correspondence between a government entity and its insurers and attorneys is privileged, such correspondence loses its privilege when it is shared with the other parties to the lawsuit. To shield from public view correspondence that all parties to the lawsuit have received keeps no one in the dark except the public–exactly those that OPRA seeks to keep informed.