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NJ Open Government Notes

Court to hear OPRA case where school board denied access to documents that are publicly available at the courthouse.

On Monday, February 26, 2018 at 10 a.m., Bergen County Assignment Judge Bonnie J. Mizdol will hear argument on whether laws that accord confidentiality to certain student records justify a local school board’s decision to deny access to a civil lawsuit that a student filed against the school board.

On October 17, 2017, Libertarians for Transparent Government (LFTG), a public-interest, non-profit (Disclosure: The author is the non-profit’s executive director), sent an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request to the Ridgefield (Bergen County) school district seeking a copy of February 2015 civil complaint filed against the district by “A.B.,” a student identified only by his intitules.  In the same request, LFTG also sought a copy of the September 2017 court order that approved the settlement of A.B.’s lawsuit.

In its response, the Ridgefield district denied access to both the civil complaint and the court order based on an October 16, 2017 Appellate Division opinion that, subject to very limited exceptions, mandated complete suppression of all records “related to an individual student” even if the student’s name and other personal identifiers are removed.  LFTG’s attorney, Walter M. Luers of Clinton, pointed out that unlike other records, the civil lawsuits and court orders that LFTG requested “are public by their very nature and were filed in Court without a sealing order.”  Indeed, Luers was able to obtain for the court’s new E-Courts on-line system an unredacted version of the September 2017 order that named both the student and his mother by name.  The lawsuit, certification and brief filed in the OPRA lawsuit are on-line here.  The Ridgefield Board’s response is here and LTFG’s reply is here.

This hearing is open to the public.  If you plan to attend, please call the court offices at 201-527-2280 the day prior to confirm that the hearing date and hour have not changed. Refer to docket number BER-L-8864-17.

By John Paff

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