On November 4, 2016, Hudson County Judge Daniel D’Alessandro ruled that the City of Jersey City should have furnished an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requestor with a handwritten settlement agreement that was signed prior to the requestor’s OPRA request even though the handwritten agreement stated that it was subject to approval by the City Council at a subsequent meeting.
D’Alessandro also ruled that Jersey City must pay the plaintiff’s attorneys fees and costs, the amount of which will be determined in subsequent proceedings.
D’Alessandro’s is one of four recent court rulings weighing in on whether draft settlement agreements are public records prior to being formally approved and signed by all parties. Judges in Passaic and Essex County agree with D’Alessandro while a judge in Mercer County does not.
This issue is important because several weeks or months may elapse between the time a binding settlement agreement is agreed to and the time that it is formally signed by all parties. In the meantime, the public has a need to know how much money a government agency paid out to settle a lawsuit against it.
The lawsuit plaintiff, Libertarians for Transparent Government, was represented by Walter M. Luers of Clinton.