Justices to hear suit on access to Hoboken records

Justices to hear suit on access to Hoboken records

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The tug-of-war between Councilwoman Beth Mason and City Hall over public access to municipal records reaches the state Supreme Court today.

A decision in the case could have broad implications for the Open Public Records Act.

The specific issues raised by Mason's suit are how long a person has to file a lawsuit if an OPRA request is not fulfilled, and whether a plaintiff should be awarded attorney's fees if requested documents are provided after a lawsuit is filed, but before a court decision is made.

The case stems from two complaints Mason filed in 2004. The first was filed in March 2004 after the city failed to respond within the required seven days to a February request to see the city's general ledger for fiscal year 2003-2004. The city fulfilled the request after the lawsuit went to a judge, but before a decision was made.

Mason's second suit, filed in September 2004, contended 15 separate OPRA requests were not fulfilled. But a judge ruled she waited too long - more than 45 days - to complain about 13 of the requests so her lawsuit didn't have standing.

Mason is arguing that when OPRA was updated six years ago, it removed the 45-day time limit for complaining, and based on other laws, the time limit for filing a lawsuit should be two years.

"Both a trial court and three appellate division judges made common sense rulings in favor of the City of Hoboken," said Hoboken Corporation Counsel Steven Kleinman. "And I have every expectation that the Supreme Court will do the same."

Such groups as the New Jersey Press Association and the New Jersey ACLU have joined Mason in her case, while the state attorney general, the Municipal Clerks Association of New Jersey and the New Jersey State League of Municipalities have backed the City of Hoboken.

No decision is expected to be rendered by the court for months.

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