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CJ Griffin Quoted in NJ Vindicator Article Regarding Pause on Rewrite of the Open Public Records Act

The New Jersey Vindicator

CJ Griffin, partner and director of the Justice Gary S. Stein Public Interest Center at Pashman Stein Walder Hayden P.C., was quoted in an article by The NJ Vindicator titled “N.J. Lawmakers Appear to be Hitting Pause on Rewriting Open Public Records Act; Bill Targeting ‘Commercial Requestors’ Still Possible in Lame-duck Session.” The article discusses how New Jersey lawmakers appear to be stepping back from a rushed effort to substantially rewrite the Open Public Records Act during the lame-duck legislative session.

CJ Griffin said that addressing issues with commercial requests through legislation needs to be done in a thoughtful way that doesn’t just create more work for a clerk. 

A rushed process doesn’t give us the best outcome. And ‘commercial’ needs to be narrowly and accurately defined — the definitions in prior bill versions are problematic,” Griffin said, adding that she would rather see the Legislature appropriate money for grants so that towns can purchase software to help track OPRA requests and put many documents online or make them accessible via an online tool.

Let’s not narrow access — let’s expand it while making the clerk’s job easier,” Griffin said.

Griffin says lawyers who need to access public records, real estate agents, private investigators who use public records as part of their work, expert witnesses who use public records for their reports, social justice organizations, bloggers who are not members of the news media, title companies, and people who are in the construction industry who access property records should be deeply concerned about any changes related to commercial records. 

We don’t know what the bill will say and there’s not enough time to create thoughtful policy and to think about bigger consequences,” said Griffin. 

What clerks are complaining about are real estate attorneys or agents filing requests for property records, which everyone needs to buy a home and become a property taxpayer. That’s a basic government service, but the clerks label them commercial requests,” Griffin said. “They also complain about attorneys filing requests for crash reports, but the proposed way of solving it isn’t going to work. Instead of an attorney filing four requests a month to get them weekly, they’ll file two.”

None of these changes make sense. They create more work for custodians. Now they will have to log how many requests any particular person makes, or fact-check whether it is ‘commercial’ or not. And to the extent they intend to exempt information, that’s just one more thing a clerk has to redact,” said Griffin.

To read the full NJ Vindicator article, click here.

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