NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · NEW JERSEY · Newsgathering · March 7, 2007
State Supreme Court rules man had right to tape
March 7, 2007 · The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled today that citizens have a common law right to videotape government meetings unless they are in violation of reasonable guidelines.
The unanimous court declared that a 15-year resident of Pine Hill, Robert Wayne Tarus, should be allowed to tape borough council meetings after the Pine Hill mayor stopped him from doing so six years ago.
Tarus was twice removed from council meetings in 2000 and charged with disorderly conduct when he refused orders to stop taping.
The court found that there was a common law right to tape the meetings, citing an “interwoven tapestry of jurisprudence and policy” supporting both the value of open government and the right to document government proceedings.
The common law right to videotape is not absolute, the court said, and reasonable restrictions may be imposed. However, the justices noted that Pine Hills did not enact such regulations until after Tarus was acquitted of the disorderly conduct charges.
They said the “ad hoc restrictions” imposed by borough officials were influenced by their distrust of Tarus, a frequent critic of the mayor and council.
“Because defendants’ actions were not neutral and reasonable, they amounted to impermissible restrictions on plaintiff’s common law right to videotape,” Chief Justice James Zazzali wrote for the court.
Since the court found a common law right to tape meetings, it declined to address whether the state constitution provided such a right.
Ed Barocas, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, said the decision is an “excellent one” that recognizes the importance of open government and could affect journalists who wish to tape meetings.
“The decision protects the rights of reporters just like it protects all other individuals in the state of New Jersey,” he said.
(Tarus v. Borough of Pine Hill) — AG