City responds to OPRA lawsuit over video

Lawyers for the City of Rahway responded last week to a lawsuit brought by this website seeking release of body and dashboard camera recordings of two car accidents within the last several months involving Mayor Samson Steinman.

Jeanne McManus of Parsippany-based Weiner Law Group, LLP, the city’s general counsel, filed a seven-page answer to the verified complaint and separate defenses along with a certification citing three separate cases — Rivera v. NJ State Police, North Jersey Media Group v. Nutley and Shipyard Associates v. Hoboken —  and certification of Capt. Joseph Simonetti, the officer responsible for processing OPRA requests for the Police Department.

Among the 12 separate defenses, attorneys said the city’s actions did not violate the Open Public Records Act (OPRA), acted in good faith, violated no public policies or laws, and exercised reasonable discretion, among others, as well as claiming that “interest in the requested records cannot overcome the presumption of confidentiality recognized under common law.”

According to Simonetti’s certification, Lt. Kevin Grimmer of the Union County Prosecutor’s Office obtained from the Police Department copies of the video created by the dashboard cameras and/or body worn cameras as well as any motor vehicle crash reports and police reports filed in connection with the accident.

The city’s attorneys made three points in a 16-page reply brief:

  • Requested dashboard and/or body camera footage is not a government record;
  • Access to requested dashboard and/or body camera footage was properly denied;
  • Defendants have no obligation to make inquiry of an independent agency conducting investigation;
  • Plaintiff did not submit a request for access to public records under common law;
  • Plaintiff is not entitled to access to the requested MVR under common law; and,
  • Award of attorney’s fees is not warranted.

In a 14-page reply brief filed yesterday by C.J Griffin of Hackensack-based Pashman Stein Walder Hayden, made the following legal arguments:

  • The criminal investigatory records exemption does not apply:
  • Rahway has not proven that the ongoing investigation exemption applies;
  • Plaintiff is entitled to the record under common law right of access; and,
  • Plaintiff is entitled to attorneys’ fees.

“The Court must ask the following question: if Rahway believes that the ongoing investigation and criminal investigatory records exemption applies, why did it release pages and pages of police reports and other records, which, based on Rahway’s reasoning, would have also been exempt pursuant to the same exemptions?” Griffin argued.

An Order To Show Cause (OTSC) hearing originally scheduled for Friday could be pushed back to next month so that a similar lawsuit by NJ Today seeking the same records can be heard at the same time, according to Griffin.

RahwayRising.com filed suit last month after the City Clerk’s office provided police reports and other documents related to the mayor’s two car accidents in response to an ORPA request but denied a request for dashboard and/or body camera footage of the police department’s response.

Here are links to the most recently filings in the case:

4 thoughts on “City responds to OPRA lawsuit over video”

    1. Ow, you’re shouting.

      Can you elaborate? What exactly disappoints you “Lemmy”?

      1. This has nothing to do with Rahway redevelopment…People come here to see what’s going on in town…On the progress and building front…We can stay with NJ.Com for the political bs and negative press which for many years you stayed away from..Expected better from you as your style has been about decent honest reporting and focus on redevelopment …somewhere you decided to write about this nonsense and even file OPRA requests….investigative reporting now? Stay with your strong suit….good decent reporting on Rahway (Rising) development..

        1. I can’t say I’ve ever had anyone complain about getting *more* coverage of a town but point taken. If you’ve followed the blog over the years, you also might notice my interest in transparency. One could make the case that writing about the municipal budget isn’t directly related to redevelopment but I think it’s important to make people aware of those details; does that qualify negative press or political BS? Where do you draw the line? I also covered the previous administration’s disagreements with City Council, which impacted redevelopment at least indirectly (*that* was political BS). I don’t see how this isn’t good, decent reporting as I strive to be fair, accurate and transparent regardless, but we can agree to disagree.

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