New Jersey's Public Records Law - What are the Penalties for Non-Compliance?

Resource Government
January 7, 2013 — 1,021 views  
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New Jersey’s Public Records Law, which is also known as Open Public Records Act (OPRA), is a statute which governs the public’s access to New Jersey’s government records. This act mainly intends to expand the right of access of the public to government records and create an appeal process for access, if the records are denied.

Obtaining Government Records

A record that has been made, maintained, or placed in a file in the course of an official business is termed as a government record. Through OPRA, one can obtain access to such records. The government records may either be printed records, micro films, tape recordings, electronically stored records, photographs, maps, books, etc.

There are certain government records over which the public access is restricted. Legislative records, intra-agency advisory material, medical examiner records, criminal investigatory records, victim’s records, records within the attorney-client privilege are restricted records. Information which gives advantage to bidders, confidential court orders, and personal identifying information are a few other restricted government records.

Filing an OPRA Request

An OPRA request can be filed by any citizen who is a resident of New Jersey. People may also file requests anonymously without providing any specific personal information. Requests are to be made to the public agency which maintains the particular record. The public agency can be an executive branch of the state government, legislature of the state, all independent state agencies, and authorities which are established by the county or municipal governments. The public agency will have custodians, who are officials having control or custody over the government records.

A request for accessing a government record should be made in writing and then mailed, hand delivered, or transmitted electronically to the concerned custodian. An individual can also make a request to obtain a record in a specific medium. Custodians in charge of the records take a maximum of 7 days to respond to the request for records. The response should be in writing as verbal responses are not considered to be valid under OPRA. If a custodian fails to respond within this time period, then it will be considered as a denial of the request.

Non-Compliance of the Law

If a custodian denies a person access to the requested record, without any valid reason, then the person can file a suit in the Superior Court or else can file a complaint with the Government records council.

A custodian, an employee, or a public official who knowingly violates the OPRA Act and refuses to deny information to the public is considered guilty. He/she will have to pay a civil penalty of $1,000 in the instance of violation of the act. If a violation is repeated within 10 years of the initial violation, then $2,500 is imposed upon the person. The penalty will be collected and enforced in accordance with the rules of the court that governs the collection of civil penalties and “The Penalty Enforcement Law” passed in 1999. Aside from this, appropriate legal actions and disciplinary proceedings will be initiated against the faulty individual upon whom penalty is imposed.

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