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CJ Griffin Wins Appeal for the Trentonian Newspaper in High-Profile Case Involving Indicted Ewing Police Officers

NJ OPRA Blog
2.14.24

CJ Griffin, partner and director of the Justice Gary S. Stein Public Interest Center at Pashman Stein Walder Hayden P.C., successfully represented the Trentonian newspaper in an appeal relating to three Ewing Township officers who were indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice for violating the civil rights of a teenager during a use of force incident. A copy of the opinion can be found here.

The Trentonian had sought internal affairs (IA) reports relating to the incident, as well as copies of all IA reports for each officer dating back to 2010. The trial court granted access to the IA reports relating to the use of force incident, but denied access to the historical reports because there was no evidence of “repeated misconduct.” Griffin appealed that ruling for the Trentonian.

On February 13, 2024, the Appellate Division granted the appeal. It concluded that the trial court was obligated to analyze several factors set forth in Rivera v. Union County Prosecutor’s Office, 250 N.J. 124 (2022), a case that Griffin previously litigated and won before the New Jersey Supreme Court. The appellate panel found that the trial court erred by considering only one factor—whether there was a record of misconduct—and not analyzing other factors or reviewing the records in camera. The panel reversed and remanded the matter back to the lower court, ordering Ewing to provide the trial court with the “complete IA files of the indicted officers from January 2010 to March 2022.” The trial court must then review the IA records in camera and conduct a full balancing test to determine if the reports should be disclosed.

“This is a win for transparency,” Griffin said. “In Rivera, the Supreme Court gave us an important tool to access IA files. For that tool to work, records custodians and courts need to carefully balance each of the Rivera factors and review the actual records to determine if any confidentiality claims outweigh the strong public interest in disclosure. Too often we see agencies failing to conduct a careful balancing and instead rushing toward secrecy. We hope this decision is a good reminder that transparency should generally prevail.”

Griffin previously represented the Trentonian in a prior appeal relating to the same use of force incident. In 2020, the Appellate Division granted the appeal and found that the use of force reports the officers completed to document their force on the teenager had to be disclosed. See Digital First Media v. Ewing Twp., 462 N.J. Super. 389 (App. Div. 2020).

Griffin added, “The Trentonian has been fighting Ewing for more details about this incident for years. We’re hopeful this latest victory will shed further light on each officer’s record of misconduct allegations, but also how adequate—or inadequate—the Ewing IA process is.”

Griffin is proud of the results achieved for clients, some of which are noted here.  Of course, each legal matter is unique on many levels, and past successes are not a guarantee of results in any other pending or future matters.

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