1. What is the Open Public Records Act?
The Open Public Records Act, commonly referred to as OPRA, was signed into law on July 8, 2002. The purpose of the Act was to make public records accessible for inspection, copying or examination by the citizens of New Jersey, with some limitations. The Legislature and the Judiciary are exempt from application of this law. However, Court Rule 1:38-1 et seq., now allows limited access to the Court’s records by citizens.
2. What does OPRA do?
OPRA allows a citizen to request a government record from any branch of government, State, County or local, other than the Legislature or Judiciary. The request must be in writing. Each government agency has an approved form, but any form of writing is sufficient.
3. What is a government record?
N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1.1 defines a government record as follows: any paper, written or printed book, document, drawing, map, plan, photograph, microfilm, data process or image processed document, information stored or maintained electronically or by sound-recording or in a similar device, or any copy thereof, that has been made or maintained or kept on file in the course of his or its official business by any officer, commission, agency or authority of the State or any political subdivision thereof.
4. What is not considered to be a government record?
N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1.1 provides that inter-agency and intra-agency advisory, consultative, or deliberative material is not included. Criminal investigatory records, domestic violence and victims’ records are also not included. There are a variety of other exemptions listed in the statute, including emergency and security and safety information or procedures.
5. What is a criminal investigatory file?
N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1.1 defines a criminal investigatory file as follows: any record not required by law to be made, maintained or kept on file that is held by a law enforcement agency which pertains to any criminal investigation or related civil enforcement proceeding. Police reports concerning an investigation into a criminal offense are considered part of the criminal investigatory file regardless of whether charges are actually signed.
6. Does it matter whether the case goes to Grand Jury or if the defendant was found guilty?
No, it does not. Once a case file has been classified as a criminal investigatory record, it retains that exemption regardless of the outcome of the case.
7. What is a victim’s record?
N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1.1 defines a victim’s record as an individually-identifiable file or document had by a victims’ rights agency which pertains directly to a victim of a crime, except that a victim of a crime shall have access to the victim’s own records. “Victim of a crime” means a person who has suffered personal or psychological injury or death or incurs loss of or injury to personal or real property as a result of a crime, or if such a person is deceased or incapacitated, a member of that person’s immediate family. “Victims’ rights agency” refers to a public agency whose primary function is to provide services to victims of crimes.
8. Can a citizen gain access to a public employee’s personnel file or personal information?
No, information in a personnel file is deemed confidential and will not be released under OPRA. The only information which will be released is the employee’s name, title, position, salary, payroll record, length of service, date of separation and the reason therefore, and the amount and type of pension received.
9. How long does the government agency have to respond to a written request?
The Act requires the Custodian of Records for the government agency to respond to the request as soon as possible, but in not more than seven working days. The day of receipt does not count as one of the seven days. If the information cannot be supplied within that time frame, the Custodian of Records for the government agency is required to notify the requesting party and inform them of the delay and the reason. The custodian must also give an estimated time of completion.
10. Does the party requesting the records or document have to pay a fee?
Yes, the party requesting the records must pay according to the fee schedule contained within the act: for letter-sized pages (8″ x 11″), $0.05 per page; for legal-sized pages (11.5″ x 14″), $0.07 per page; or the actual cost for duplication where such cost exceeds the foregoing rates. Fees for different media will be assessed on a case-by-case basis in accordance with subsection 5 of P.L.2010, c.75. (C.47:1A-5). A deposit of $10.00 may be required of any person who makes an anonymous request for records. N.J.S.A. 47:1A-5(f). This fee will be automatically credited toward any cost incurred.
11. How does the party requesting the records receive the records/documents?
Responses will be sent by mail, unless otherwise specified. The requesting party may specify that the records be held for pick up, mailed, faxed, and/or provided electronically. When it is not possible to meet a request to produce a response in a particular media, the requestor will be notified and a response will be sent in another acceptable manner.
12. Why is certain information crossed out on the documents provided by the government agency?
OPRA requires that any document which discloses a social security number, credit card number, unlisted telephone number or driver’s license number shall be redacted, or in other words, that information and similar information will be deleted.
13. What information is considered public concerning crimes and arrests?
The answer depends on whether a suspect has been arrested for the crime. If no one has been arrested, the police or the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office shall make available to the public upon request within 24 hours after the commission of the crime, the nature of the crime, the time, the location, and any weapon used.
If a suspect has been arrested, the following information is to be made available to the public upon request within 24 hours, unless release of the information compromises the integrity of the investigation or puts the victim or the victim’s family in jeopardy of harm: name, address and age of any victims; the defendant’s name, age, residence, occupation, marital status and similar background information; the identity of the complaining party; the nature of the charges; the identity of the investigating and arresting personnel; the length of the investigation; the circumstance surrounding the arrest, including the time and place of the arrest, resistance and any use of force by either the defendant or the arresting police officers.
14. What if the request is denied?
If a request is denied, the Custodian of Records must indicate the basis for the denial. The party requesting the information can either file an appeal with the Government Records Council or institute an action in the Superior Court, Law Division, Civil Part. Because an appeal to the Government Records Council is without cost, most appeals are filed there. However, their decision is not final and can still be appealed to the Appellate Division.
15. What is the Government Records Council?
The Council is a group of individuals, who need not be lawyers, who are tasked with the responsibility of interpreting and ensuring compliance with OPRA.
16. What does the Government Records Council do?
After the necessary paperwork is completed by both parties, the Council hears the allegations of the party requesting the information. The burden then shifts to the government agency to justify the denial. The Council can order the release of all or some of the requested information/documents or uphold the denial. The Council also determines whether the fees charged fall within the statutory guidelines. The Council can also impose a fine for a willful and wanton failure to provide the requested information. The Council can also award attorney fees to the appealing party, if that party is successful. Whether the custodian has acted willfully is determined by an Administrative Law Judge.
17. How do I request records from the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office?
To request records from the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, please visit our OPRA Records Request page and follow the instructions listed there.