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ACLU-NJ Sues Christie Administration for Withholding Information

5-8-14

The ACLU-NJ is suing the Christie administration. The organization is accusing the administration of refusing to hand over public records. ACLU-NJ Cooperating Attorney Bruce Rosen told NJTV News Managing Editor Mike Schneider that he thinks the governor’s office told executives not to comply with Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests.

Rosen said that he is looking for the OPRA requests that other people had sent in. He said that ordinarily, people would write in on a government website or send a letter in asking for specific documents. He said that in this particular case, the government gave the documents readily until January and February, when officials changed their tune because of the large number of OPRA requests after the scandal broke surrounding the George Washington Bridge lane closures.

Rosen said that up until the Bridgegate incident and the repercussions that came from it, especially the release of documents that ultimately resulted in Gov. Chris Christie’s press conference, it was routine for government entities to provide the requested documents.

The rejection of a request comes from a document custodian for a particular agency, such as a school board or town, Rosen explained.

“What we are talking about here is primarily executive agencies. It seems the word appears from their denials. We included many of them in our complaint. It appears from these denials that the same language is used and the same case is cited. It was never cited before. All of a sudden it is an issue because someone does not want others to see what was already requested,” said Rosen.

Rosen said that the ACLU-NJ is asking the administration to tell them who asked for what documents and to provide copies of OPRA requests that they have received at the governor’s office, Motor Vehicles or other agencies. He said that it is easy to make an OPRA request.

“Across the board, the executive of the state has apparently sent down word that we are not going to let others know what has been asked for. The whole series of executive departments from the governor’s office and down. I think it goes to the governor’s office. The governor’s office specifically denied our client’s applications,” said Rosen.

Rosen said that the OPRA requests being denied are OPRA requests of OPRA requests and it is important that people know what those requests say.

“Our client has asked specifically for this information so he can keep track of it and so that he can decide whether it has been dealt with and whether the government has actually produced that information. Between now and June, we have a brief to write. There will be an opposition brief and we will reply to that and then there will be a hearing,” said Rosen.