Planet Princeton

New Jersey Governor’s Office Refuses to Provide Journalist with Public Records Requests

christieGov. Chris Christie’s office has denied a public records request by a journalist seeking all of the public records requests filed with Christie’s office for 2013.

J.K. Trotter, a member of MuckRock, a Massachusetts-based FOIA-focused news group,  filed an Open Public Records Act request seeking the office’s 2013 OPRA logs. He asked for the name of the requester, the date of the request, the subject and the outcome.

Last week the governor’s office denied the request, citing both a 2005 opinion issued by a state appellate court as well as brief provision in OPRA’s text concerning “information which, if disclosed, would give an advantage to competitors or bidders.”

“The Appellate Division has recognized that there is an `interest of third parties in protecting the confidentiality of their requests for access to public documents’ under OPRA. (Gannett N.J. Partners, LP v. Cnty. of 379, N.J. Super. 205, 212 App. Div. 2005). For that reason, `OPRA does not authorize a party to make a blanket request for every document a public agency has provided another party in response to an OPRA request,’ nor does it permit requests that would reveal `the nature and scope of a third party’s inquiry to a government agency.’ Ibid. Further, OPRA exempts `information which, if disclosed, would give an advantage to competitors,’ (N.J.S.A 47:1A-1.1), such as the disclosure of matters being investigated by news organizations to potential competitors of those news organizations.

The response was signed “Office of the Governor” and did not include an individual lawyer’s signature.

“It is not clear how, exactly, the cited opinion applies to my request for the office’s 2013 OPRA log, as it concerns the confidentiality of communications between a state agency and the U.S. Attorney’s office, and only off-handedly refers to news outlets asking for communications between an agency and other news outlets,” Trotter writes in a response to the rejection.

“Under the Office of the Governor’s interpretation, agencies are asked to comply with OPRA, yet allowed to completely shield how they do so, and who is requesting which records, from public view,” Trotter writes. “Unlike the federal freedom of Information Act., New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act doesn’t extend to itself (according to this rejection).”

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

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