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NJ Open Government Notes

Galloway taxpayers paid $103,222.57 in legal fees and costs to an OPRA requestor’s attorneys.

At its October 24, 2017 meeting, the Galloway Township (Atlantic County) Council authorized an $87,199.44 payment to Clinton-based attorney Walter M. Luers for legal work that he and other lawyers performed in an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) lawsuit that resulted in a significant New Jersey Supreme Court ruling.  This is in addition to $16,023.13 in fees and costs that Galloway taxpayers paid Luers as a result of a July 25, 2014 court order that arose out of the same case.  The $103,222.57 figure does not include fees and costs paid by Galloway taxpayers to their own lawyer, Michael J. Fitzgerald of Linwood, for advocating the Township’s interests in this case.

The case was John Paff v. Galloway Township et al, that resulted in a June 20, 2017 decision in which a unanimous New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that “information in electronic form, even if part of a larger document, is itself a government record [and that] electronically stored information extracted from an email is not the creation of a new record or new information; it is a government record.”  The decision reversed a contrary ruling handed down by a three-judge Appellate Division panel on April 18, 2016.  The Appellate Division ruling had reversed a June 10, 2014 opinion issued by Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Nelson C. Johnson.

According to an agreement between the Township and Luers, of the $103,222.57, $16,023.13 represents legal work done at the trial level, $51,770.85 for work done at the Appellate Division level and $35,428.59 for work done before the New Jersey Supreme Court.  Attorney who assisted Luers and who will receive part of the proceeds are: Henry F. Furst, Joshua M. Laurie, Raymond Baldino and Michael M. McIlmail.

By John Paff

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project