A New Jersey appeals panel ruled Thursday that county governments cannot circumvent public records requests by housing documents at off-site locations, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
The state Open Public Records Act is silent on whether government records must be maintained in-house in order to be considered public, but yesterday’s decision closes that loophole.
The case began when the Gloucester County Board of Freeholders denied a request from a county resident for access to taxpayer-funded settlement agreements because they were in the possession of the county’s insurance carriers and nonstaff lawyers.
Thursday’s decision overturned a 2008 ruling by state Superior Court Judge Timothy Farrell that off-site records are not subject to disclosure under the public records law. That decision could not remain intact because it had the effect of “thwarting the policy of transparency," wrote Judge Edith Payne in the panel’s opinion.