CJ Griffin Quoted in Star-Ledger Editorial Board Opinion on Government Records Council’s Case Backlog
CJ Griffin, Director of the Justice Gary S. Stein Public Interest Center at Pashman Stein Walder Hayden, was quoted in the Star-Ledger Editorial Board Opinion, “Under Murphy, no disclosure champ, a fight for government records drags out 2 years.” The Opinion discusses the need to re-imagine the role of Government Records Council (“GRC”), which was created to give requestors an alternative to suing when their request for records pursuant to the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) are denied. The Opinion notes that the state Comptroller’s agency recently released a report that the GRC has a running backlog between 300 and 500 complaints.
“It’s hard for me to take the Government Records Council very seriously because they do take so tremendously long,” said CJ Griffin, a lawyer and prominent open records advocate.
This also signals to state agencies that they don’t have to respond promptly to requests under our disclosure law, known as the Open Public Records Act, she said. “If the GRC is taking so long to adjudicate a complaint,” Griffin said, “how can state agencies really feel like they have to take their timeline seriously under OPRA?”
By comparison, those who sued for government records in court got a decision in an average of seven months, the state comptroller found. It sometimes takes as little as two or three months, said Griffin, who represents clients [on a contingency basis]. And you often have a better chance of winning, she says, because while some records like police dashcams are exempt under the disclosure law, a court can still release them to you based on previous judicial decisions.
The GRC can be an ok place to go if you’re seeking to litigate a “hyper-technical” violation of the Open Public Records Act, like if a state agency charged you $5 for a CD-ROM when they’re really only allowed to charge you 50 cents, she said; or if you can’t find a lawyer to take your case. But the odds are stacked against you as a regular citizen without expertise arguing case law, because you’re up against the lawyer for a state agency – an outcome that’s designed to be less favorable to transparency, as is the precedent set by previous mismatched fights like this at the GRC.
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