As part of a settlement agreement between Planet Princeton, the town of Princeton, and Princeton University, Planet Princeton’s lawyer will receive just a little over $10,000 for legal fees related to a public records case about town-and-gown police jurisdiction in the municipality.
The town of Princeton is slated to vote on a settlement agreement Monday night to pay lawyer Walter Luers $3,874.34 for legal fees related to the 2016 case.
Princeton University has agreed to pay Leurs $6,500 for legal fees related to the case. The school was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, but sought to block access to some police records and became an intervenor in the case.
Under state law, if a citizen, news outlet or group is the prevailing party in a public records case, they are entitled to legal fees. Not only does the legal fee provision guarantee that ordinary citizens without financial resources can challenge denials of access in court, but it also serves or should serve as a deterrent that would keep government agencies from wrongfully denying requests for public records.
Planet Princeton sought all policing agreements between the town and the university’s public safety department from 2013 to 2016, including any attachments and maps. Planet Princeton was interested in the policing agreements because police jurisdiction — which police department responds to what kinds of crimes and in what locations — is an issue in the public interest that affects residents.
The town, in consultation with the university and the prosecutor’s office, initially denied the entire request. After Planet Princeton filed a lawsuit, the town agreed to release four policing agreements, but not attachments, which included a “schedule of responsibilities” and a jurisdictional map.
Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson ruled in July that the schedule of responsibilities detailing which police department responds to which incidents was a public record. She rejected Planet Princeton’s request for the map because of the public safety department’s concerns about security and the safety of campus police officers. The university argued that someone could plot an attack against officers using information from the map. Planet Princeton was considered the prevailing party in the case, and thus was entitled to legal fees, because the lawsuit triggered the release of the agreements by the town and the release of the schedule of responsibilities.
The fees go directly to the lawyer for Planet Princeton in the case. They do not go to Planet Princeton. Luers, the top public records lawyer in the state, worked on the case over an eight-month period and represented Planet Princeton with the understanding that he would receive no payment if we lost the case — in other words, that he would be representing us pro bono in the event that we lost. We appreciate the efforts he has made on our behalf.