On May 26, 2017, Burlington County Assignment Judge Ronald E. Bookbinder issued a written opinion holding that the minutes of an October 19, 2012 public meeting of the Moorestown Ethical Standards Board were “deliberative” and thus exempt under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) at the time I requested those minutes on December 28, 2015–more than three years after the meeting was held. Judge Bookbinder deemed the minutes “deliberative” because the Board had not yet “approved” them at the time my OPRA request was received.
In his ruling, Judge Bookbinder found that the Ethical Standards Board did violate the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) by not making its meeting minutes “promptly available” to the public. He ordered that the Board, going forward, “must annually approve and release all prior unapproved meeting minutes at its required reorganizational meeting” and that “if the Ethics Board receives a request for copies of its prior meeting minutes before this deadline, then the Board must convene a Special Meeting within thirty (30) days of the request in order to approve and release the requested minutes.”
Through attorney CJ Griffin of Hackensack, I have appealed Judge Bookbinder’s ruling. I believe that meeting minutes, because they simply record what happened during a meeting, are not “deliberative” and are therefore public records at the moment they are created and regardless of whether or not they are “approved.” Also, it is important that people are able to enforce their OPRA (rather than OPMA) rights for unapproved meeting minutes because only OPRA (and not OPMA) requires the custodian to reimburse a successful requestor his or her attorney fees.
Background on the case and copies of court documents are available at my March 3, 2016 blog article.