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New Jersey Supreme Court clarifies open records law

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  1. Freedom of Information
The highest court in New Jersey on Tuesday upheld a 45-day appeal window for actions brought under the state’s open…

The highest court in New Jersey on Tuesday upheld a 45-day appeal window for actions brought under the state’s open records law. The court also found that the government must pay attorney’s fees for such lawsuits if it turns over the documents voluntarily after a lawsuit is filed.

“Citizens are entitled to swift access to public records, and both the public and governmental bodies are logically entitled to have any disputes brought and addressed in the same, rapid manner,” Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote.

Rabner ruled on the appeal to two consolidated lawsuits, both brought by Elizabeth Mason, a Hoboken resident who filed 125 separate requests for city records in 2003. She sought copies of state building permits, heath care plans and the names and pension records of all Hoboken employees.

In her suit, Mason wanted the 45-day window extended to two years; the Supreme Court said the shorter deadline was adequate and dismissed part of her suit on those grounds. Mason also had no right  to collect attorney fees, the court found, because the city showed her lawsuit was not the “catalyst for their release of records.”

“This is a victory for New Jersey citizens’ rights to access to government information,” Deborah Jacobs, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in New Jersey, told The (Newark) Star-Ledger.

“The ruling will help ensure that municipalities respond timely to citizens’ requests for information, and makes it more likely that municipalities will be held financially liable for their improper actions or inactions," she said.