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21st Century Media v. Ewing Township

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  1. Freedom of Information

Court: Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

Date Filed: April 27, 2023

Background: The Trentonian, a daily newspaper in New Jersey, filed several requests with Ewing Township for access to internal affairs records concerning three current and former township police officers who participated in the forcible arrest of a Black teenager in 2018.

In addition to requesting access to the internal affairs records concerning the 2018 arrest, the newspaper also sought access under the common law to any internal affairs records for the officers dating back to 2010. The township denied The Trentonian’s requests, prompting the newspaper to sue for access to the records.

The trial court ordered Ewing Township to disclose the 2018 records. The court relied on the New Jersey Supreme Court’s 2022 ruling in Rivera v. Union County Prosecutor’s Office, which held that information from an internal affairs investigation into a police department director’s use of racist and sexist slurs must be released under the common law.

However, the trial court cursorily denied access to the pre-2018 records, failing to apply the requisite analysis for those records under the Rivera decision. The Trentonian then appealed to the Appellate Division.

Our Position: The Appellate Division should reverse the trial court’s denial of The Trentonian’s request for an order requiring Ewing Township to produce the pre-2018 reports and remand with instructions to the trial court to conduct the requisite careful, fact-sensitive balancing under the common law right of access.

  • News reporting on internal affairs records helps the public evaluate the work of police oversight boards and identify areas for reform.
  • The trial court failed to conduct the careful, fact-sensitive review of the pre-2018 records required by Rivera.

Quote: “Transparency is critical to ensuring that the public has the information it needs to evaluate the conduct of the law enforcement officers sworn to serve their communities, and to ensure that investigations into potential misconduct are conducted effectively and fairly.”

Related: The Reporters Committee previously filed friend-of-the-court briefs in Rivera and Libertarians for Transparent Government v. Cumberland County, a case in which the New Jersey Supreme Court ordered the release of a settlement agreement reached between Cumberland County and a corrections officer who had been accused of sexually abusing a female detainee. The two cases, which were decided one week apart, marked important victories for government transparency and accountability in New Jersey.

As Reporters Committee Staff Attorney Gunita Singh wrote in an op-ed for NJ Spotlight News, “These Supreme Court decisions weave greater transparency and accountability into the tapestry of open government that New Jersey communities collectively construct each time an individual files an open records request, attends a school board meeting or sues the government to enforce the state’s open government laws.”

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