OPRA case goes to Supreme Court

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — The New Jersey Supreme Court will hear a Bloomfield resident’s case to obtain a 14-hour video recording taken by a security camera behind Town Hall and pointed at the mayor’s parking space.

According to the the resident’s attorney, CJ Griffin, the hearing will help determine the burden of proof a public agency must present when denying information to the public. She also said it will help to determine public access to security camera footage. The Bloomfield resident is Pat Gilleran.

Gilleran had made an Open Public Records Request to the office of the Bloomfield Municipal Clerk for the March 14, 2014, recording of Mayor Michael Venezia’s parking space. She believed on that day it was being used by a local Democrat party boss who had a placard allowing parking in prohibited areas. If this were true, Gilleran reasoned, the placard had possibly been obtained as a political favor since obtaining one is restricted to individuals on township business.

The recording was never reviewed but the township rejected Gilleran’s request nonetheless for security reasons. She brought the township to court and won her case. The township appealed and Gilleran won again.

In an email, Gilleran said she was gratified the Supreme Court wanted to hear the case.
“The history is it has only taken 10 OPRA cases,” she said. ‘In six out of 10, they affirmed the previous decisions and in the seventh, it affirmed part and reversed part. This case has already gone to Superior Court where I prevailed and the Appellate Court where I prevailed as well. Hopefully, the NJ Supreme Court weighs in and broadens the decisions already made by the lower courts.

Venezia said it is the position of the township that the ruling of the Appellate Court was not clear.
“The governor’s office and the League of Municipalities support what the township is doing,” he said.
Hinson, who has argued before the Supreme Court, said he expects the case to take about a year before it is heard.