OPRAmachine blog and tweets
Posted on by The OPRAmachine Team
It is with profound sadness that we must reflect on the passing of Monmouth County Assignment Judge Lisa P. Thornton. A respected jurist in the legal community, she was admired for her steadfast commitment to justice and her principled interpretation of the law, specifically the Open Public Records Act (OPRA).
One significant case that remains a testament to her dedication to transparency is Jennifer Coombs, Gavin Rozzi & Jeff Epstein v. County of Monmouth et al., Docket No. MON-L-3195-18. Although it was an unpublished trial court decision, it is a ruling of considerable importance to our work here at OPRAmachine because it was the only time that a trial court specifically upheld the validity of the OPRA requests submitted by users of our platform.
When the County of Monmouth, their county counsel & outside attorneys unfairly - and illegally - sought to deny requests submitted by OPRAmachine users solely for the use of our platform, Judge Thornton came firmly down on the side of public access to information, upholding the spirit and intent of OPRA. Her decision in this case confirmed that our platform is a legitimate vehicle for the public to request government records, thereby ensuring our ongoing operation.
Read Judge Thornton's full decision regarding the validity of OPRAmachine requests below:
This ruling demonstrated Judge Thornton's respect for the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and her belief in the right to access government information. Her understanding of the intersection of law and technology was manifest in her well-considered opinion.
Thornton's ruling categorically rejected the Monmouth County Counsel's specious "privacy" concerns relative to citizens who choose to utilize the OPRAmachine platform to submit their requests.
"Any inadvertent disclosure of confidential records can be prevented if defendants perform an adequate review and make appropriate redactions," Judge Thornton ruled in 2019 opinion striking down Monmouth County's policy that specifically targeted OPRAmachine for reprisal over the county staff's failure to properly redact public records. "The County’s new policy inappropriately shifts the responsibility to protect a citizen’s privacy to the requestor, and does nothing to prevent the inadvertent disclosure of confidential records. Defendants fail to acknowledge that documents processed with a personal email address can be immediately uploaded to the internet."
We have included audio of oral argument below, and it provides a valuable insight into Judge Thornton's meticulous approach to legal reasoning and respect demonstrated for our work. It allows us to appreciate her considered examination of the arguments presented and her thoughtful process of arriving at her decision.
Judge Thornton's role as a superior court judge was marked by her adherence to the principles of justice, fairness, and transparency. Her approach to the Coombs et al v. County of Monmouth et al case reaffirmed these values. Her dedication to these principles serves as a model for all those engaged in the legal profession.
Judge Thornton's passing is a significant loss to the legal community and to all those who advocate for open government. As we continue our work at OPRAmachine, we honor her legacy and strive to uphold the principles she so firmly stood for.
We extend our deepest condolences to Judge Thornton's family, friends, and colleagues. Her impact on the legal community and on our work at OPRAmachine will not be forgotten.
Posted on by The OPRAmachine Team
Court Holds That OPRAmachine and its Administrators Cannot Be Sued Over Content of Public Records Uploaded to Website by Public Entities
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Atlantic City, NJ - OPRAmachine, the trusted platform for New Jersey Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests, and its founder Gavin Rozzi, are delighted to announce a significant legal victory in the recent class action lawsuit brought against them in Cape May County Superior Court. This legal victory preserves our right to continue operating the OPRAmachine service without the threat of frivolous lawsuits seeking to hold us vicariously liable for the contents of public records uploaded by public entities to the OPRAmachine website.
Class Action Complaint Dismissed as to OPRAmachine
On May 17th, 2023, Superior Court Judge Ralph A. Paolone granted OPRAmachine and Rozzi's motion for reconsideration, dismissing all remaining counts against the company that operates OPRAmachine and affirming the platform's immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act from liability related to third-party content which includes public records uploaded to the website.
The lawsuit, captioned Andrew Moon et al v. City of North Wildwood et al, was filed as a putative class action on November 16th, 2022, by plaintiffs Andrew Moon, Tyler Huck, and Ryan Ladd. The case centered around an OPRA request made in 2022 for the North Wildwood Fire Department Civil Service List by an OPRAmachine user. Despite OPRAmachine's immediate action to rectify a redaction oversight by the North Wildwood City Clerk, the plaintiffs and their attorneys sought to hold OPRAmachine and its administrator liable for the North Wildwood City Clerk's redaction failure.
OPRAmachine and Rozzi filed a motion to dismiss the complaint through their attorney. Judge Paolone originally granted the motion as to Rozzi and denied it as to OPRAmachine in a March ruling. Subsequently, OPRAmachine's attorney filed a motion for reconsideration asking the Court once again to dismiss the complaint as to OPRAmachine, which was granted on May 17th.
Judge Paolone's ruling solidifies the essential protections provided by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, preventing online platforms like OPRAmachine from being subjected to unfounded legal actions over content they have no control over. This landmark decision safeguards freedom of speech online and shields platforms from the threat of costly litigation that could stifle open dialogue and freedom of speech online. Without these protections, online platforms would be forced to engage in heavy-handed and overly burdensome moderation which would stifle open debate and discussion. Given that OPRAmachine has processed over 40,000 requests, it would be impossible to operate the website on a statewide scale without this immunity.
OPRAmachine Immune from Lawsuits Under Section 230
The court found that the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. 230, which provides that "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider" immunizes OPRAmachine and its administrators from any civil actions pertaining to user-generated content uploaded to the website.
Gavin Rozzi, founder and administrator of OPRAmachine, expressed his reaction to the ruling, stating, "This victory reinforces the crucial importance of Section 230 in protecting the rights of online platforms and their users. I am very grateful to the Court for seeing through the misleading arguments and suppositions advanced by the Plaintiffs in this case. Without these protections, class action lawyers and powerful individuals could exploit the threat of baseless and costly litigation to suppress freedom of speech and destroy the ability of online platforms like OPRAmachine to operate. This case should have never been brought in the first place, and it's exactly why people have lost trust in class action lawyers who are solely motivated by the promise of a big payout."
"Not only was there nothing on the table in this case, there is no table here. Let others who may consider legal action against the OPRAmachine over user-generated content be guided accordingly."
Rozzi also highlighted the spurious nature of the plaintiffs' claims, saying, "It is intriguing that despite the City of North Wildwood offering free identity theft monitoring to the plaintiffs, they chose not to take advantage of it. Now, they claim they are at risk. These inconsistencies raise doubts about the credibility of their claims and ability to serve as class representatives."
Rozzi acknowleged OPRAmachine attorney Bill Sosis, of Sosis Law, LLC. Sosis capably represented OPRAmachine and obtained the outcome we were hoping for.
Questionable Motives of Plaintiffs
In addition, Rozzi commented on the unprofessional conduct of the plaintiffs' attorneys, Oliver T. Barry and Erika Lezama-Simonson of Barry Corrado & Grassi (a/k/a Cape Legal) during the course of the litigation, stating, " This case should have never been brought as it flew in the face of federal law. The unprofessional behavior exhibited by Barry and Lezama-Simonson throughout this case is deeply disappointing. They cited an overturned district court case in their briefs in a cavalier attempt to mislead the court and repeatedly missed deadlines, displaying a lack of diligence and disregard for legal procedure. It was clear that they were both out of their depths here. This outcome totally disproves the malicious lies about myself and OPRAmachine contained in their complaint."
Even worse, Frank Corrado, a partner in Barry's firm previously represented the Internet Archive and argued the exact opposite legal position in federal court, so this firm clearly should have known better before pursuing this dead-end theory of liability against OPRAmachine. This is a firm that clearly should have known better given Corrado's civil rights work and esteemed background in Section 230 advocacy on behalf of the Internet Archive.
With this legal victory, the ability of OPRAmachine to continue delivering value for New Jersey residents has never been more secure. This outcome ensures that we can continue operating our platform, without the fear of frivolous litigation destroying what we've built. This ruling serves as a reminder that online platforms like OPRAmachine can operate with full confidence, knowing that their protection under Section 230 remains intact.
For those interested in listening to the oral argument, we have obtained a copy of the official recording and uploaded it here:
Posted on by The OPRAmachine Team
In a recent decision posted on April 20th, 2023, the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, reviewed an order denying defendants Jeanne Hitchner, the City of Millville, and the City of Millville Police Department's motion to dismiss an unverified complaint filed by plaintiffs African American Data and Research Institute, LLC (AADARI), and Obafemi Simmons. The order also required defendants to provide plaintiffs with certain internal affairs records under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and common law right of access requests.
The plaintiffs had filed an Order to Show Cause (OTSC) and unverified complaint under Rule 4:67 against defendants, alleging that the denial of the document requests violated OPRA and common law. The complaint was signed by plaintiffs' counsel and contained a Rule 4:5-1 certification also signed by counsel. However, neither Simmons nor an officer of AADARI submitted a verification or affidavit based on personal knowledge in support of plaintiffs' application.
The trial judge denied defendants' application, stating that defendants waived the jurisdictional defense and that the matter was a simple one. The judge then addressed the merits of plaintiffs' application and granted disclosure of some records under the common law right of access.
On appeal, the court disagreed with the trial judge's decision, stating that plaintiffs did not comply with the court rules and order. Specifically, a verified complaint was not filed and served on defendants, rendering the unverified OPRA complaint a "nullity." This meant that the trial court's subject matter jurisdiction was not properly invoked.
Moreover, neither Simmons nor an officer of AADARI submitted an affidavit with personal knowledge of genuine facts to support plaintiffs' application. The trial judge relied only on counsels' representations, which is insufficient to provide support for factual allegations.
Due to these procedural deficiencies, the appellate court reversed and vacated the February 5, 2021 order. This decision highlights the importance of complying with procedural rules in OPRA cases to ensure that the court has the proper jurisdiction to address the merits of the case.
Posted on by The OPRAmachine Team
We are aware that some of you have experienced difficulties accessing certain pages for public authorities on our platform. Specifically, when attempting to view certain pages, you may receive a message indicating that there was a problem processing the page and that you have found a bug. We understand that this can be frustrating, and we apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.
We want to assure you that our team is aware of the issue, and we are working hard to address it as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, at this time, we do not have any further specifics on the cause of the problem or a possible solution. It may be due to a recent backend software upgrade, but we are still investigating.
We kindly ask that you do not contact us to further report this problem. We have already received numerous reports from our users, and we are actively working to fix the issue. We understand that you may be concerned about the problem, but we want to assure you that we are doing everything we can to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.
In the meantime, we appreciate your patience and understanding. We understand how important it is for you to have access to the information you need, and we are working tirelessly to ensure that you can access it as soon as possible.
Thank you for your support and for being a part of the OPRAmachine community.
Posted on by Gavin Rozzi
In a recent op-ed published in the Star-Ledger/NJ.com, Tom Dellane, president of the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police, who also serves as the Stafford Township police chief, criticized the state's Open Public Records Act (OPRA) for facilitating profit-driven abuse and called for changes to limit its accessibility. Dellane's concerns, however, seem out of touch with the grim reality of the lack of transparency in policing and access to police records in New Jersey.
The recent police killing of Najee Seabrooks, a man who had called 911 for help during a mental health crisis, only highlights the dire need for increased transparency and accountability. Furthermore, the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office has recently sued OPRA requestors to prevent the release of information regarding the murder of Sayreville Councilwoman Eunice Dwumfour, further eroding public trust between law enforcement and the public. As the Paterson community demands answers and an investigation into a troubled police department, it becomes clear that restricting access to public records is not the solution; rather, we need to address the systemic issues that lead to situations like the tragic deaths of Seabrooks and Dwumfour, and protect the rights of OPRA requestors.
Dellane's op-ed highlights a few purported instances of profit-driven OPRA requests, which he claims are made with the sole purpose of exploiting the system for financial gain. However, this narrow focus overlooks the countless instances where OPRA requests have served as a vital tool for the public to hold law enforcement accountable for their actions. By focusing on a few isolated cases, Dellane and the New Jersey State Police Chiefs Association appear to be reflexively spouting talking points unsupported by the on-the-ground reality in New Jersey communities.
Moreover, Dellane's arguments fail to consider the broader picture, in which a lack of transparency in law enforcement has led to an erosion of trust between the police and the communities they serve. In light of the recent incidents involving Najee Seabrooks and Eunice Dwumfour, it is evident that there is an urgent need for greater transparency, not less. Instead of attempting to limit access to public records, we should be advocating for opening up police internal affairs files to the public to provide more insight into high-profile incidents and improve overall accountability.
The Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office's disturbing decision to sue media organizations and journalists who requested documents under OPRA, including recordings of 911 calls, arrest reports, and surveillance recordings, regarding the shooting death of Councilwoman Eunice Dwumfour, is an alarming demonstration of the lengths some law enforcement agencies are willing to go to obstruct transparency. Government transparency advocates argue that such aggressive and unnecessary legal maneuvers could deter the public from seeking government records for fear of being taken to court. This situation, coupled with the killing of Najee Seabrooks, underscores the importance of preserving and even strengthening the OPRA to ensure accountability and transparency in law enforcement.
As residents of Paterson and Sayreville demand answers and justice for Najee Seabrooks and Eunice Dwumfour, it is evident that New Jersey must prioritize transparency and accountability within its law enforcement agencies.
Instead of attempting to limit access to public records, the state should focus on addressing the systemic issues that lead to situations like these tragic deaths and work to rebuild public trust. This includes protecting the rights of OPRA requestors and ensuring that they have access to the information they need to hold law enforcement accountable for their actions.
In conclusion, Tom Dellane and the New Jersey State Police Chiefs Association's stance on OPRA appears out of touch with the grim reality of policing in the state. Their arguments against OPRA are not supported by the evidence and seem to be a reflexive attempt to defend the status quo rather than addressing the systemic issues leading to an erosion of trust in law enforcement. Instead of attempting to limit access to public records, we should be advocating for greater transparency and accountability, including opening up police internal affairs files to the public. By doing so, we can work together to restore public trust and ensure a safer and more just society for all.
Introducing the OPRAmachine Redaction Academy: perfecting the art of redaction in the Garden State 🕶️
Posted on by The OPRAmachine Team
Greetings, public records enthusiasts! Prepare yourselves for the most thrilling reveal in OPRAmachine history: the OPRAmachine Redaction Academy! We've designed a top-notch training program to empower public agencies in New Jersey to master the art of redaction, ensuring that the public remains well-informed while striking a balance between transparency and privacy. 🤫
Why launch a Redaction Academy, you ask? It's simple: like a fine wine, redaction is an art form that certain public agencies in the Garden State have struggled to perfect. With high-profile lawsuits and incidents highlighting alleged redaction fiascos, we've decided to create an educational platform to assist our public servants in the vital task of keeping public records both accessible and legally compliant. 🙊
In an era where data flows like a river and oversharing is as common as breathing, one may be led to assume that absolute transparency is the only way forward. But, lo and behold! We at the Redaction Academy have embarked on a quest to challenge this very notion! For we know that, in the labyrinth of information, too much light can blind the beholder. 🌀🔦
Enter the enigmatic realm of redaction, where we shall teach public officials the arcane art of summoning even more redactions to shield sensitive secrets from prying eyes! Our noble mission: to strike a balance so bewilderingly delicate that it shall baffle the brightest minds, intertwining the threads of transparency and obscurity into a tapestry of riddles and enigmas. 💫🔮
Join us on this mystifying journey, as we unveil the paradoxical world where transparency and redaction collide, creating a kaleidoscope of confusion and intrigue. Are you ready to take the plunge into the uncharted waters of redaction mastery? The Redaction Academy awaits your arrival! 🌊🎩
Our OPRAmachine Redaction Academy offers a robust curriculum, including hands-on training, mock redaction challenges, and even a "Redaction Olympics" where participants can showcase their skills and compete for the coveted "Master Redactor" title. 🏆
Our upcoming Redaction Academy Seminar Series will be hosted at a fabulous Atlantic City casino on April 20th! Join us for a series of entertaining and informative sessions, such as:
- "Fifty Shades of Redaction: Mastering the Art of Concealment"
- "Daniel's Law Decoded: The Judicial Redaction Revolution"
- "Inkblots & Redaction: A Rorschach Test for Public Records Custodians"
- "Redaction Roulette: Betting Big on Information Management"
- "The Secret Life of Redactions: An Insider's Guide to Public Records Drama"
- "The Redaction Diaries: A Tale of Public Records Intrigue"
- "The ACDs of Exemptions: Exploring 'Advisory, Consultative, and Deliberative' Material"
- "Redaction Royale: A High-Stakes Game of Public Records Poker"
- "The Redactrix Reloaded: Public Records in the Digital Age"
- "You Just Might Be Wrong: The Redaction Game Show"
Gavin Rozzi, OPRAmachine founder and administrator, explains the philosophy behind the Redaction Academy: "In a world where transparency is all the rage, we thought it would be useful to give public officials a resource to improve their redaction skills. We want to create a world where redaction is a carefully honed skill, and public records are a shining example of openness, tempered with privacy and public relations considerations."
But wait, there's more! We've incorporated cutting-edge AI-powered redaction technology to ensure our training program remains ahead of the curve. Our virtual redaction mentor, RedactoBot, is ready to guide participants through interactive tasks, transforming even the most inexperienced redactors into masters of the craft. 🤖
Posted on by The OPRAmachine Team
This week, the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division released two noteworthy, unpublished rulings that could have a significant impact on email access under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA). In both cases, a panel of the state's intermediate appellate court focused on whether members of the public can expect privacy for their names and email addresses when communicating with municipal officials or when subscribing to electronic newsletters.
While these cases may not be binding precedent, they provide valuable insight into the court's interpretation of privacy expectations and can help guide OPRA requestors when seeking emails. In this post, we'll discuss the implications of these decisions for requestors seeking email records.
Case 1: Brooks v. Township of Tabernacle (A-3769-20)
In the first case, the Appellate Division was asked to determine whether individuals engaging in email communications with municipal elected officials and employees about public business can reasonably expect their names and email addresses to remain private. The court concluded that such individuals cannot objectively expect that their names and email addresses will not be subject to public disclosure as part of a log of emails sent and received by those officials and employees.
Implication for OPRA requestors: This decision suggests that OPRA requestors seeking email records involving public business may be able to obtain the names and email addresses of private individuals who communicate with municipal officials and employees. As a result, requestors can potentially access more comprehensive email records, including the identities of the individuals involved in these communications.
Case 2: Rise Against Hate v. Cherry Hill Township, et al. (A-3421-20, A-1440-21, A-1517-21)
The second case addressed a slightly different issue. The court considered whether members of the public who submit their email addresses to receive electronic newsletters and notices from a municipality can reasonably expect their email addresses to remain private. The court ruled that these individuals do have an objectively reasonable expectation that their email addresses will not be disclosed to a non-government organization that intends to send unsolicited emails to further the organization's political and social objectives.
Implication for OPRA requestors: This decision implies that OPRA requestors may face limitations when seeking email addresses of individuals who have subscribed to electronic newsletters or notices from a municipality. Requestors should be aware that they might not be able to access this information, especially when the intended use is for purposes unrelated to the government's functions, such as marketing.
These two rulings from the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division provide valuable guidance for OPRA requestors seeking email records. The Brooks case suggests that requestors may be able to access more comprehensive email records related to public business, while the Rise Against Hate case indicates that obtaining email addresses of electronic newsletter subscribers may be more challenging.
While these cases are unpublished and may have limited precedential value, they still offer a glimpse into the court's thinking on privacy expectations under OPRA and how the courts may address such issues in the future. OPRA requestors should stay informed about future cases involving email access and privacy rights, as these rulings could shape their strategies when seeking email records from public entities.
It will be interesting to see how future cases involving email access and privacy rights will be impacted by these decisions.
Posted on by The OPRAmachine Team
We are excited to share the news of a groundbreaking lawsuit that has been filed, in which requests submitted through OPRAmachine have played a crucial role in uncovering violations of the New Jersey Open Public Meetings Act ("OPMA"), the twin of OPRA that requires public bodies to be transparent with their public meetings. This case is particularly significant as it marks a case of first impression, meaning that New Jersey courts have not yet been confronted with such evidence of "serial meetings" before, primarily because they are difficult to prove.
Complaint before Ocean County Assignment Judge Hodgson
Regina Discenza, a former 2-term member of the Lacey Township Board of Education and an OPRAmachine user, holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminal Justice from John Jay College in Manhattan, New York. Over the course of her 2 terms on the board, Mrs. Discenza attained the highest levels of New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) Board Member Academy training and received both Master Board Member and Certified Board Leader awards.
She is joined by Gavin Rozzi, the founder of OPRAmachine, in filing the lawsuit as pro se parties. They allege that certain board members participated in serial meetings conducted via telephone discussions, violating the transparency requirements of OPMA.
They filed their Verified Complaint on March 22nd, 2023, and the Honorable Francis R. Hodgson, Jr., A.J.S.C. signed their Order to Show Cause on the following day.
A case of first impression
Legal scholars have noted that such a case has yet to be brought in New Jersey largely because of the difficulty of obtaining evidence proving that a pattern of decision making by phone calls, emails and text messages actually occured.
"Obviously, this issue has never been presented to the Courts in this fashion, probably because proof of such a meeting would be extremely hard to obtain," the late local government attorney Michael Pane wrote in a New Jersey Practice Series article on the Westlaw legal database. "Nevertheless it would seem from the intent of the Act that if there were testimony as to a pattern of decision-making by telephone, a Court might well find that a violation of the Act had occurred.”
As Bill Sherman noted in an article for the Pace University Law Review cited in the Plaintiff's legal briefs, "Open meeting statutes are universally interpreted to cover not only in-person, face-to-face meetings but also so-called “serial” meetings and meetings at which communication is done in writing or by telephone."
Here, the Plaintiffs ask a New Jersey court to apply OPMA to these "serial meetings." Such conduct is also exactly what the New Jersey School Boards Assocation warned about in ther guidance to board members on OPMA.
Board Members Admit to Holding Secret Discussions to Authorize Board Attorney's Investigations
Stunningly, the board members admitted to holding the "serial meetings" in Certifications before the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law in an 11th hour attempt to defend against related school ethics complaints previously filed by Rozzi and Discenza. The certifications showed that, by their own admission, 5 of 7 and 4 of 7 board members held the serial meetings to purportedly authorize the investigations of them, excluding the two board members not aligned with their faction and keeping them out of the loop of their authorization to use the Board Attorney against other board members and private citizens.
In a March 6th, 2023 Certification, Linda Downing, the current Lacey Board of Education President admitted to the following conduct during the 2019 school board campaign in attempt to deflect the school ethics charges against former board president Giordano for using board attorney Christopher Supsie to investigate his political opponents:
"However, in this matter, Mr. Giordano had individual discussions between myself, and other Board Members, Frank Palino, Nick Mirandi, and Harold "Skip" Peters, and discussed the disturbing behavior of Ms. Discenza. The five of us in separate conversations with Mr. Giordano recommended and agreed that he contact the School Board Attorney so the matter could be investigated and researched."
Her "distubring conduct"? A letter to the editor in the Southern Ocean Times calling out incumbent board members on their conflicts of interest, namely their "lifetime connection to employees" and inability to act objectively, as well has her assistance to the Rozzi Team's campaign.
A related certification was signed by the Defendants retroactively providing their assent to a related investigation against Rozzi, with former board member Nicholas Mirandi, Harold "Skip" Peters and Downing certifying as follows:
"In my role as Board Member as well as my capacity as an active and involved citizen of Lacey Township, I was aware of Complainant [Plaintiff Rozzi]'s status as a journalist embroiled in local political matters, specifically with respect to the Board and Lacey Township School District, as well as Complainant's penchant for disclosing information to the public and making OPRA requests in pursuit of his journalistic endeavors. During this time frame (I do not recall the exact date), I spoke with Respondent/Board President and I authorized him to engage the Board Attorney to perform research as to whether there were any School Ethics Commission Decisions which would have an impact upon whether a local reporter would be conflicted from being appointed by the Board to fill a vacancy of the Board.”
In their related school ethics matters, Rozzi and Discenza were dropped as the Complainants in 2020 and the School Ethics Commission appointed a Deputy Attorney General to prosecute their cases, which remain ongoing before Administrative Law Judges Elia Pelios and Carl Buck III. In an intial decision, Pelios ruled that Giordano's use of the board attorney to investigate Discenza did indeed violate state school ethics laws.
In the OPMA action, the Plaintiffs are seeking a declaration that OPMA has been violated and nullifcation of the Board's taxpayer-funded investigation into the political opponents of board members.
As the case progresses, we at OPRAmachine are proud to have played a role in facilitating access to the information necessary for this groundbreaking lawsuit. It serves as a testament to the importance of transparency and public access to government records in maintaining accountability and fighting against potential misconduct.
OPRAmachine, a platform dedicated to facilitating access to public records, has been an invaluable tool for Discenza and Rozzi in gathering evidence for their case. Through numerous OPRA requests, they were able to obtain documents such as email communications, board minutes, and certifications that provided essential insight into the alleged OPMA violations.
Stay tuned for updates on this first-of-its-kind case, and be sure to visit OPRAmachine.com to submit your own requests for public records. Together, we can continue to uphold the principles of open government and ensure that our public officials are held accountable for their actions.
Posted on by The OPRAmachine Team
RIDGEFIELD - A judge has thrown out a former Ridgefield borough employee's lawsuit that previously sought to involve OPRAmachine for discovery purposes in its entirety without a trial.
The 2019 lawsuit made claims against the borough under the state's Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA), common-law retaliation and violation of the New Jersey Exempt Fireman's Statute in connection with the borough's failure to hire former Ridgefield IT Director Joseph Silvestri's wife, who is also the town clerk of Ridgefield, for a position as borough administrator. The lawsuit also made various claims against borough elected officials and administration in connection with the elimination of the IT director position in favor of an outside vendor.
In a written opinion posted to the New Jersey Judiciary website issued January 3rd, 2023, state Superior Court Judge Robert Wilson dismissed all of the claims made in Silvestri's 2019 complaint against the Borough in their entirety in response to a motion for summary judgment.
Subpoena for OPRAmachine user dropped
During the pendency of the case in late 2021, the plaintiff's attorney, Thomas Flinn attempted to serve OPRAmachine with a subpoena compelling us to provide data, including the name, IP address, email address and other details regarding the identity of a pseudonymous user of the platform who requested records from the Borough of Ridgefield using OPRAmachine during the pendency of the lawsuit. As the borough clerk of Ridgefield, Silvestri's wife, Linda Silvestri is the OPRA custodian of records responsible for responding to the requests at issue in the case.
The Borough of Ridgefield's attorney first filed a motion to quash the subpoena to OPRAmachine, which was initially denied by Judge Wilson. Subsequently, OPRAmachine appeared in the case and received pro bono legal assistance to contest the subpoena with the aid of the ACLU-NJ and filed a new motion to quash the subpoena, incorporating additional arguments as to why the anonymous OPRAmachine user's identity should not be discoverable in the civil litigation against the Borough.
After OPRAmachine's motion was filed, the subpoena seeking disclosure of the OPRAmachine user's data in a deposition was dropped, so the Court never had to reach a decision on the merits of our arguments following the withdrawal of the subpoena and second motion to quash.
A vindication for anonymous online speech
"At OPRAmachine, we strongly believe in the right to anonymous online speech and will zealously defend the rights of our users to request public records through the platform without being subjected to undue fishing expeditions conducted by personal injury attorneys seeking to 'unmask' anonymous OPRA requestors and drag them into legal proceedings for no reason other than their interest in public records," said Gavin Rozzi, founder and owner of the OPRAmachine platform.
"The outcome of the subpoena at issue in this case is a vindication of those principles," Rozzi added. "We are very grateful for the expert guidance provided by our legal counsel, CJ Griffin, Director of the Justice Stein Public Interest Center at Pashman Stein Walder Hayden, P.C. and Jeanne LoCicero of the ACLU-NJ, who skillfully defended our position and the civil rights of our anonymous user. Their assistance was invaluable."
"They both have been very valuable partners in the fight to ensure that we can continue to protect the civil rights of our users and operate our platform without the fear of legal demands that are clearly at odds with New Jersey's public policy in favor of anonymous OPRA requests and high threshold for unmasking anonymous speakers on the internet," said Rozzi. "We encourage our users to consider supporting the ACLU of New Jersey Foundation by making a donation so that this work can continue," said Rozzi, who also acknowledged Amol Sinha, the executive director of the ACLU-NJ.
Anonymous users cautioned to protect their privacy
OPRAmachine still cautions users who choose to make use of the platform's anonymous request features to err on the side of caution practice good cyber hygiene and take steps to protect their privacy in case their activity on the platform creates unwanted attention, as this outcome was contigent on the specific legal and factual issues of this individual case. Legitimate anonymous users who become caught up in such a demand will be notified in accordance with OPRAmachine's terms of service, and are also encouraged to obtain their own legal counsel to protect their rights in these instances, should they feel it is warranted.
While OPRAmachine takes some steps to limit the data collected in anticipation of issues like this arising, in certain circumstances user activity on the site could indeed become discoverable and users should be mindful of this. Those users who need protect their identity could take steps such as making use of anonymous / pseudonymous email account as well as a VPN, among other precautions to limit the scope of personal identifiers that may become discoverable in litigation involving their use of OPRAmachine.
Users are also adivsed to not abuse these anonymous features for impersonation or identity theft, as these are not permitted uses of the platform under the OPRAmachine terms of service and may result in repercussions approrpriate to remedy the situation, as the case may be.
Posted on by The OPRAmachine Team
OPRAmachine is pleased to announce that the New Jersey Government Records Council has recently amended their handbook for OPRA records custodians to include new guidance that specifically addresses the validity of requests received from the OPRAmachine platform. This recognition of the validity of online requests is a significant step forward for OPRAmachine users, as it provides an additional layer of credibility to our platform and the requests made through it.
On page 17 of the handbook, the New Jersey Government Records Council states:
"Internet Requests: Some public agencies and third parties (such as OPRAmachine) have created or contracted out systems that allow a citizen to fill out an online request form and file it with the custodian over the Internet. The means of submitting a request form (mail, in-person, Internet) will not affect which records will or will not be available for access."
This guidance clarifies that requests submitted through OPRAmachine are equally valid as those submitted in person or through traditional mail, and that all requests should be treated equally by custodians. Municipal attorneys who are critical of the platform's role have claimed that the public nature of OPRAmachine should necessitate a different privacy analysis in regard to the decision of records custodians to release records, however this guidance from the GRC appears to dispell such contentions.
This recognition by the New Jersey Government Records Council is significant for several reasons. Firstly, it acknowledges the growing importance of online platforms for public records requests, and the increasing use of online tools by citizens to make requests. It also recognizes the value of OPRAmachine as a trusted platform for making such requests.
Secondly, this recognition of the validity of online requests is beneficial to OPRAmachine users in several ways. It provides a level of assurance that requests made through OPRAmachine will be treated with the same respect and consideration as requests made in person or through traditional mail. This can be particularly important for records custodians who may be concerned about the legitimacy of OPRAmachine user requests or who may be seeking sensitive or confidential information.
Overall, this recognition by the New Jersey Government Records Council is an important milestone for OPRAmachine and our users. We are committed to continuing to provide a reliable and effective platform for public records requests, and we look forward to continuing to serve the citizens of New Jersey and beyond.
It's important to clarify that OPRAmachine does not have any contracts or agreements with any public agencies, nor do we serve as a representative of any agency or government body. We are an independent platform that provides a user-friendly interface for submitting public records requests to the relevant custodians.
As stated in the guidance from the New Jersey Government Records Council, third-party platforms like OPRAmachine are simply tools that allow citizens to fill out and submit online request forms. While we may provide assistance and guidance to users in the process of making requests, we do not represent any public agency or government body. Our role is solely to provide a secure, user-friendly interface for submitting requests, and to facilitate communication between requesters and custodians.
We believe that this independence is a key strength of our platform, as it allows us to maintain a neutral stance and to provide a level playing field for all users. Our primary goal is to make it as easy as possible for citizens to exercise their right to access public records, and we are committed to providing a transparent and reliable service to all users.
Posted on by The OPRAmachine Team
We're always working on ways to improve the user experience of OPRAmachine users. We're writing to notify our users that our terms of service have been updated.
These terms amend and supplement the original terms that govern your use of the OPRAmachine service. We encourage you to read the full terms of service on our website.
Among other things these updates:
- Clarify how certain legal disputes are handled with OPRAmachine
- Adds a new section to our content removal policies to address recent changes to state law
No action is required from users to acknowledge these updated terms. Your continued use of the OPRAmachine service, including the submission of OPRA requests, constitutes your acceptance of any such changes. If you do not agree with the changed terms, please do not use OPRAmachine.
These terms will take effect on March 15th, 2023 for existing OPRAmachine users, while new users creating an account on or after February 15th, 2023 will be subject to them immediately.
Posted on by The OPRAmachine Team
You may have recently heard about attempts to reform a federal law known as Section 230 or ongoing legal battles involving big tech companies over possible challenges to the law. But "big tech" isn't the only thing at stake in the debate surrounding possible changes to the law - your ability to obtain public records via OPRAmachine is at risk if this law were to be reformed.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is a crucial law that protects online platforms from liability for user-generated content. This law is essential for running civic websites like OPRAmachine, which allow citizens to easily access and request public records. It has been a topic of much debate in recent years, with some arguing that the law needs to be reformed to hold platforms accountable for the spread of misinformation and harmful content. However, others argue that changing the law would have a detrimental effect on the free flow of information and the ability of platforms to provide a space for public discourse and civic engagement.
The OPRAmachine platform is a powerful tool for increasing government transparency and civic engagement. It allows citizens to make public records requests to state and local government agencies, and provides an easy-to-use interface for searching and viewing the records that are obtained. This is essential for holding government officials accountable and promoting informed participation in the democratic process.
Law protects free flow of information on OPRAmachine
However, attempts to reform Section 230 would put the OPRAmachine platform at risk. Without the protections provided by Section 230, platforms like OPRAmachine could be forced to censor or remove content contained in public records or posted by our users in order to avoid legal liability. This would undermine the very purpose of the platform and prevent citizens from accessing important information.
According to a report by the Center for Democracy and Technology, "Section 230 allows online platforms to host a wide range of speech without fear of legal liability for that speech. This protection allows platforms to facilitate robust public discourse and civic engagement without having to constantly monitor user-generated content for potential legal violations."
Furthermore, without Section 230, platforms like OPRAmachine could be subject to frivolous litigation designed to stop public participation. This would not only be a costly burden for the platform, but it would also make it harder for citizens to access the information they need.
We call on policy makers to reject any attempts to reform Section 230 and to support the continued operation of civic websites like OPRAmachine, which play a vital role in promoting government transparency and civic engagement. The free flow of information is a cornerstone of a democracy and citizens should have access to the information they need to hold their government accountable.
We encourage citizens to voice their support for Section 230 and the continued operation of civic websites like OPRAmachine. By working together, we can ensure that government transparency and civic engagement remain strong.
Contact your congress member and tell them to #SaveSection230
One way you can take action is by reaching out to your congress member and letting them know how important Section 230 is to you. You can find your congress member and their contact information by visiting this website: https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative
We also encourage you to join our campaign and spread the word about the importance of Section 230 on social media using #SaveSection230. Together, we can ensure that public records remain easily accessible to all citizens.
Posted on by The OPRAmachine Team
We wanted to let you know about some important changes to our procedures for content removal that have recently taken effect. These changes are in line with our updated terms of service, and we believe they will help streamline the process for users seeking to have content removed from our platform.
Effective December 12th, 2022 there is now a single method for submitting content removal requests regarding user-generated content hosted on the OPRAmachine platform. To request the removal of an OPRA request or response, individuals must utilize the form provided on the individual web page for that request. We will no longer be responding to content removal inquiries sent via email or the website's general contact form for reasons of operational efficiency and to ensure that we have all information needed to take action on a request.
Under our new content removal procedure, users seeking to have content removed from the OPRAmachine platform must follow the steps outlined below:
- Navigate to the web page of the OPRA request that you believe has content that warrants removal (should start with https://opramachine.com/request)
- On that page, click the "Actions" menu.
- Select the "Report this request" option.
- Fill out the form provided, including a brief description of the content you would like removed and the reason for its removal. The reason must be one of those listed in our Terms of Service in order to be considered.
- Submit the form.
Please note that these revised procedures do not modify our existing procedures for removals related to the Digital Millenium Content Act (DMCA), which remains the same as outlined in the terms.
As per our terms of service, as an interactive computer service that provides a platform for user-generated OPRA requests and content, OPRAmachine reserves the right, but not the obligation, to remove content that violates our terms of service in our sole discretion.
We do not entertain bulk "opt out" requests from individuals or organizations and will typically only remove confidential, personal identifiers that are improperly redacted or illegal content within a specificly identified file hosted on the OPRAmachine service, as outlined in our terms of service.
It is important to note that we have no control over external search engines or websites that may display content hosted on the OPRAmachine platform, such as Google. If you would like to request the removal of content from an external source, you will need to contact that source directly.
We appreciate your understanding of these updated procedures for content removal. If you have any questions or concerns, please refer to the full OPRAmachine terms of service. Thank you for using OPRAmachine!
Posted on by The OPRAmachine Team
We are happy to announce that normal service has been restored on OPRAmachine. We have completed server upgrade work to better handle the increased volume of traffic to the OPRAmachine service, as well as other "under the hood" changes to more efficiently run the platform.
We also apologize for any inconvenience that may have been caused by the recent issue that was preventing users from submitting OPRA requests from the evening of December 14th to the afternoon of December 15th, 2022.
After extensive investigation, we have identified the issue and implemented a fix. We encourage users who encountered an error today, December 15th, 2022 or the previous day, to try submitting their requests again.
We appreciate your patience and understanding as we worked to resolve this issue. If you continue to experience any issues or have any questions, please don't hesitate to reach out to our team.
Posted on by The OPRAmachine Team
We are excited to announce the release of a new feature for our platform: batch request by category. This feature allows users to easily submit batch requests to entire categories of public authorities in just a few clicks. To prevent abuse of this powerful feature, this functionality is currently available to OPRAmachine Pro members.
Previously, making batch requests required manually selecting each individual public authority, which could be time-consuming and tedious. Now, with the new batch request by category feature, users can simply select the category they are interested in and submit their request to all relevant authorities in one go.An example of batch OPRA request by category shown using Municipal Utilities Authorities
This new feature is particularly useful for users who need to make comparative research for academic purposes or bulk requests to gather business intelligence. It's also useful for public-interest open government advocacy, as this can be useful for requesting documents and data that would show how compliant particular localities are with state mandates. It also saves OPRAmachine users time and effort, allowing users to quickly and easily access the information they need.
To use the batch request by category feature, simply log in to your OPRAmachine Pro account and start a new batch request. Select "browse by category" from the main menu. From there, you can choose the category you want to submit your request to and follow the steps to complete your request.
We hope that this new feature will be a valuable addition to your OPRAmachine Pro experience and make it even easier for you to access public records. As always, we welcome your feedback and suggestions, so please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions or comments.