CJ Griffin, Director of the Justice Gary S. Stein Public Interest Center, was quoted in an Asbury Park Press article discussing a New Jersey Appellate Division ruling that the City of Neptune doesn’t have to pay the Asbury Park Press’ legal fees for a lawsuit seeking the internal affairs file of a Neptune police sergeant who fatally shot his ex-wife.
CJ submitted an amicus curiae brief on behalf of ACLU of New Jersey in the Appellate Division, arguing that such internal affairs records of the police officer should be released pursuant to the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) or the common law right of access, and that even if access is only granted under the common law, the trial court’s award of attorney’s fees to the plaintiff should be affirmed.
While the Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s decision to release the records and acknowledged the ability to be awarded legal fees under common law, it reversed the lower court’s decisions to award legal fees to the Asbury Park Press given the particular facts of this case.
An attorney speaking on behalf of the ACLU of New Jersey noted the implications for the public. “Although we are happy that the court affirmed common law access, the decision not to award legal fees is disappointing and will hinder future access," attorney CJ Griffin said in a text message. “The Legislature needs to pass S-2656, so that [internal affairs] records are subject to [the state's public records law]. NJ lags far behind other states on this issue and this case proves that secrecy around police misconduct is downright dangerous.”
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