The GRC's Time Problem
We have always recommended that clients challenge their OPRA denials in Superior Court. Why? Primarily because the process is significantly faster. An action filed in Superior Court will generally be resolved within 2-4 months in most cases, unless there is an appeal. This expedited process is vital to transparency, especially for reporters who need the records to report news to the public in a timely fashion.
In contrast, we have filed 4 denial of access complaints in the GRC and the process was unbearably long. One case took 25 months, another 22 months, and a third took 13 months. The fourth matter is still pending 24 months later, although the GRC did issue an interim decision 19 months into the case. We do not know when a final decision will be issued. OPRA mandates that the GRC handle cases "as expeditiously as possible," but the GRC does not seem to be living up to that mandate.
Joe Hernandez of WHYY wrote a story about the GRC's extreme slowness called, "Appealing a Public Records Request Denial in N.J.? Don't Hold Your Breath." Hernandez notes:
The GRC was supposed to be the faster, easier alternative to filing a lawsuit in state court. But a review of the council’s internal tracking system shows it has a backlog dating back to 2014, tying up some cases without a resolution for years.
The story explains that the GRC suffered considerable budget cuts and staffing shortages under the Christie Administration. Whatever the cause for the GRC delay, we hope that this problem is remedied as too many citizens go to the GRC to file a simple complaint and end up not getting access to the records they sought for years.