What You Should Know About OPRA and Your Lawsuit
Are you familiar with the acronym OPRA? The letters stand for the Open Public Records Act. It’s quite possible that it might be used as an effective tool in your lawsuit. In fact, it might even make your case.
The law regarding OPRA is spelled out in NJSA 47:1A-1 et seq. It is specifically designed for requests for information from government agencies. This could mean securing a police report from the local law enforcement agency. Or, could also entail procuring maintenance records from a public entity such as New Jersey Transit.
Open Public Records Act – A Useful Investigative Tool
Attorneys experienced in the practice of personal injury and criminal defense often use OPRA requests in investigating cases. At the Law Offices of Anthony Carbone, here are some examples of why we request records citing the Open Public Records Act:
- Secure police reports and investigative records
- Document maintenance (or a lack thereof) of government vehicles and equipment
- Obtain drawings, maps or photographs that may be relevant to our client’s lawsuit
- Secure records regarding traffic signals or signs if relevant to our case
There are benefits to a law firm referring to OPRA when requesting records. For one, it makes the request formal. It also establishes a time deadline for the government entity. Responses to OPRA requests are due within seven business days. The Custodian of Records for the government agency has three ways to answer such a request:
- Produce the requested documents
- Ask for an extension of time in which to produce the documents
- Deny the request, citing an appropriate exception
Although the Open Public Records Act is a useful investigative tool, there are exceptions. For example, law enforcement authorities may cite an ongoing criminal investigation as a reason not to release records. There are a number of other exceptions, which are outlined here. Among those listed is access to certain medical examiner’s records and victims’ records. An emphasis is made to protect public safety.
It is up to legal counsel to determine if an OPRA request has been denied improperly. In many cases, it is necessary to file an Order to Show Cause in Superior Court. This may also be warranted if the public entity has ignored the request for documentation. A judge may then order the government agency to supply the necessary information. Otherwise, the court may rule against the request.
At the Law Offices of Anthony Carbone, we have more than 26 years of experience representing injured clients and those charged with crimes. We consider OPRA an important investigative tool. Contact us to see how we can be of assistance.