University must disclose expenditure documents
NEW JERSEY–Rutgers University must disclose certain records involving the expenditure of funds for legal representation in labor, employment and civil rights matters to the professors’ association that requested them more than four years ago. The state Supreme Court in Trenton ruled in early March that the materials are public records under the common-law as interpreted by prior court decisions.
According to the New Jersey Law Journal, the association’s leaders wanted access to the records because they suspected that Rutgers was “paying lawyers to besmirch activist faculty members.” The association requested copies of attorney bills, documents Rutgers internally generated from the attorney bills and legal submissions — pleadings, briefs, affidavits filed with courts or other agencies and awards or decisions rendered. When Rutgers refused to release the records, the association filed suit seeking access under the common law and the state Right to Know Law.
The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that even though the records did not fall within the Right to Know Law because the are not explicitly required “to be made, maintained or kept on file,” they are common-law public records and as such must be released if the requester can establish an interest in the subject matter of the documents and if the requester’s right to access outweighs the state’s interest in preventing disclosure.
The high court held that the documents at issue are common-law public documents because they were “made by a public official in the exercise of his or her public function, either because the record was required or directed by law to be made, or kept or because it was filed in a public office.” Moreover, the court held that the association “clearly had a cognizable interest in accessing all of the documents.” The court held that, with respect to the attorneys bills and internally generated documents, only the balancing of interests was at issue. On remand, the trial court must weigh the interests and determine if these records must be released.
The Supreme Court’s decision forces Rutgers to disclose the legal submissions, although the union must pay “reasonable” copying costs. (Keddie v. Rutgers; Requester’s Counsel: Paul Schachter, Newark)