WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Suing Those Who Pursue Government Transparency

Jul 21, 2015

A few months ago a New Jersey man filed a request with a local township under the state's Open Public Records Act.  The township responded by suing him.

The Columbia Journalism Review reported the story and pointed out that while it’s not common for a public agency to sue someone requesting records, it is something that happens every once in a while.

Shop Talk panelist Richard Moreno called such actions “Un-American.”  And he pointed out the first judge who heard the New Jersey case ruled in favor of the township, which Moreno called a “scary” decision.

A second judge later sided with the citizen, and as the CJR reported, “The judge also made a point that likely will seem obvious to journalists: Permitting the government to initiate a suit against someone who requests public records is contrary to the principles underlying FOI (Freedom of Information) laws.”

Panelist Rich Egger noted citizens and journalists don’t need to provide a reason when they file an FOI request.  He also said it’s likely many records are now kept digitally so information can be emailed to a requester, avoiding the need for governments to charge fees for copying documents.

Panelist Jasmine Crighton called the township’s lawsuit “outrageous.” She said the government should be working on behalf of the public and should err on the side of transparency.  Crighton said the public has a right to know how its money is spent and what’s being done by governments.

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