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Charlie Kratovil Appointed as New Leader of OPRAmachine, Poised to Enhance Transparency in New Jersey
Posted on by The OPRAmachine Team
Charlie Kratovil, the editor of New Brunswick Today, has been named the new project leader of OPRAmachine. This appointment follows the decision by founder Gavin Rozzi to step down, marking a new chapter for the groundbreaking platform.
Rozzi expressed his enthusiasm for Kratovil's leadership. "I am excited to see Charlie take over OPRAmachine. His passion for open governance, tenacity and proven track record in investigative journalism makes him the ideal successor. I am confident that with Charlie at the helm, OPRAmachine will not only continue its vital mission but also reach new frontiers in empowering New Jerseyans with access to information."
Kratovil, a respected figure in community activism and journalism, brings extensive experience in advocating for transparency and public engagement.
“Leading OPRAmachine is a tremendous responsibility and an opportunity I am eager to embrace,” said Kratovil. “Building on Gavin’s incredible work, I am committed to enhancing the platform’s impact and ensuring that it remains an indispensable tool for those seeking to hold power to account in New Jersey.”
Since 2017, OPRAmachine has revolutionized access to public records in New Jersey, becoming a key resource for journalists, researchers, and citizens. Rozzi's leadership saw OPRAmachine grow into a robust platform, facilitating widespread access to public information and defending the privacy rights of its users.
OPRAmachine has facilitated over 49000 public records requests to over 1300 public bodies sent by the platform's 6933 confirmed users since 2017.
The transition to new leadership promises a seamless continuation of the platform’s services, with Rozzi affirming his ongoing support for the project: “As I embark on new ventures, I leave OPRAmachine in capable hands. Charlie's vision for the platform aligns perfectly with its founding principles, and I look forward to seeing it flourish further,” added Rozzi.
The transition will be effective January 1, 2024.
Posted on by Gavin Rozzi
A Message from Gavin Rozzi About the Future of OPRAmachine
Dear OPRAmachine Community,
After six great years of building and growing OPRAmachine, today I announce that I will officially step down as leader of the project in the near future.
It's time for me to embark on some new adventures, and much has been accomplished since I first created this platform as a proof of concept in late 2016, before officially launching it in October, 2017. I have selected a successor to continue my vision with the platform and take the wheel going forward. I have great confidence in this individual and their team, but I am going to let them introduce themselves on their own terms when the time is right. But I can tell you that this person is a tenacious and courageous individual who is the right fit to continue the important work we have been doing here.
It has been a wild ride, and an incredible journey. I am so proud of all that we have accomplished together as a community since 2017. I am incredibly grateful to everyone who has supported me. I firmly believe that New Jerseyans are better off as a result of the access to information championed by the OPRAmachine platform.
I want to be clear: the OPRAmachine platform has never been in a stronger position and isn't going away anytime soon. There will be no changes to your account or requests as we aim for a seamless transition.
One lesson in life that I have learned over the years is that you can do anything, but not everything, which has guided me in coming to this decision.
Every startup founder has had to wrestle with the competing goals of taking care of their valued creation and knowing when it's time to let go and move on to something new. For me, there are few things that are more rewarding than building something that has helped thousands of people, and also being able to see that creation outlast you as an individual creator.
As much as I have loved being a part of this community, I have come to realize that it is time for me to return to my roots and pursue my next adventure, and with OPRAmachine being in a very strong position, now is the time to start making this transition, and in the spirit of transparency, I am sharing this news with you all today.
No doubt about it, OPRAmachine is, and has been a pioneer. It has changed the game of access to information in New Jersey like nothing else. No other platform has helped to facilitate the release of as much public information in our state at the scale we have operated at. Thousands of pages of documents and data have been released through the platform, which is the largest public repository of OPRA responses to my knowledge. And we did all of this on a shoestring budget, up against powerful interests and individuals who would preferred to see this work fail. Somehow, it all worked out.
In a state marked by news deserts and floundering legacy media outlets, OPRAmachine was a radical departure from the status quo. We dared to be different. And I have no doubt that this vision will continue in the next six years to come as OPRAmachine is stewarded by new leadership with my full backing and support.
When I founded OPRAmachine, my goal was to create a platform that made it easier for people to access public records, hold their government accountable and speak truth to power by publishing requests and responses as an accountability mechanism. I can't take credit for inventing this category of website, but nobody else has focused on New Jersey specifically with the same breadth and depth we have done here. I also wanted to build something that was good enough that I wanted to use it myself. Over the last six years, we have achieved that goal and so much more.
Under my leadership, I am most proud of several accomplishments that come to mind:
We stood up to clerks and records custodians who wrongfully attempted to obstruct our users' requests in 2018, resulting in a thoughtful decision by the late Monmouth County Assignment Judge Lisa Thornton. While working in academia at the Bloustein School, in 2020, I turned the OPRAmachine dataset into a peer-reviewed academic journal article, showcasing the platform's value for research. We received the 2019 "Excellence in Local News" award from our friends at the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University. With the help of our legal counsel and colleagues from the ACLU of New Jersey, we succesfully fought off subpoenas from a lawyer representing a disgrunted municipal employee seeking to unmask our anonymous users, upholding our commitment to user privacy. I was very proud in 2022 to see that the Government Records Council (GRC) within the state Department of Community Affairs officially acknowledged the validity of the work we are doing with their mention of OPRAmachine in their Handbook for Records Custodians. And this year, we fought off class action lawyers who tried to hold us liable for a municipal clerk's redaction fail, confirming our immunity as an interactive computer service under Section 230 of the Communications Deceny Act.
There have also been numerous news stories that would not have been possible if not for OPRAmachine helping bring them to light by aiding journalists and community activists. There are too many of these to list. Many of the state's top journalists have used OPRAmachine to dig up records relevant for their reporting, and I am very happy to have played a small role in helping them inform New Jerseyans. And many local government officials, school board members and whistleblowers have used the platform to help even the playing field by gaining access to crucial public information.
I still remember the first days of OPRAmachine, which began in my college dorm at Stockton University back in 2017 when I was 20 years old and wrapping up my undergraduate degree there. I thought it would be fun to try and build something like this, and I started out wanting to build something that just covered Ocean County. I pulled a few all nighters to manually build the first iteration of OPRAmachine's statewide database. I never imagined that the platform would take on a life of its own and became a statewide leader on the scale it has.OPRAmachine was born in this very building in 2017
Over the years I have worn many hats during my tenure as the leader of this platform. I've been a systems administrator, web developer, plaintiff and defendant to name a few. There has always been a fire to put out one way or another. We have received many frivolous legal demands over the years and one of my favorite past times has been calling the bluffs of attorneys who thought they could bully us into backing down with their demand letters. And I'm pleased to report that we never backed down or compromised our values.
There are too many people to acknowledge individually, but please know that I have the utmost gratitude for the contributions of all of the friends and supporters of the platform. I have made many new friends and connections through OPRAmachine. It has been the honor of my life to serve as the leader of this incredible platform and I can't wait to see where it goes in the future.
As for me? I'm not going anywhere, and I don't want this announcement to be read to suggest that anything is wrong, either with me or OPRAmachine. This decision has been in the works for a while and both myself and the Machine are quite alright. I'm excited to take on new challenges and I'm still going to advocate for my principles.
I'll still be the platform's biggest champion and will do everything in my power to ensure the new team continues OPRAmachine's vision and mission. I'm staying right here in New Jersey. I'll probably be down at the League of Municipalities conference in Atlantic City next month and I ran into a few users of the platform at the Under One Roof Conference hosted by the Housing & Community Development Network of New Jersey this week.
I've also recently founded a new consulting firm, 39 North Labs LLC where I am working on some interesting projects for my clients, including litigation support and expert witness testimony.
I'll have more to share about my future plans at a later date. You'll probably be seeing me in a different capacity soon enough.
Under pressure, Lavallette Clerk backs down from 100-day extension, releases body cam footage of activist's arrest
Posted on by The OPRAmachine Team
Patrick Duff, a frequent OPRAmachine user and publisher of the Rabble Rouser Blog explained that it was his threat of litigation that led to Lavallette Borough Clerk Donelly Amico dropping her demand for a 100-day extension on his OPRA request for police body cam footage of the arrest of activist Jen Coombs, who was arrested after borough officials accessed a law enforcement database to find a warrant for her arrest when she appeared at the borough's municipal complex seeking to file an internal affairs complaint. Other OPRAmachine users has reported similar responses to their requests from the Coombs is the operator of the "Time to Change - Jersey Style" YouTube channel and has frequently clashed with law enforcement authorities in Monmouth County as she has sought to film public spaces and meetings.
"This video shows that police illegally accessed the NJ criminal database in order to obtain information on a first amendment auditor, Jen Coombs," Duff wrote on his YouTube channel. "Why were they checking the database if she was not being detained or stopped in a vehicle?"
"My threats of a lawsuit to Lavallette for the body cam footage of an activist’s arrest, worked! I got the video, but not without a disclaimer in the video that i must get permission from the Chief of Police to use the video," Duff wrote in a post on the NJ OPRA, OPMA & Open Government Facebook group.
Duff's OPRA request has not yet been made public on OPRAmachine as he is a Pro user with the ability to embargo his requests, but he shared the following snippet from his request thread on Facebook:
The Clerk's office backed down from their extension demand, but not without releasing the video with a legally specious and questionable disclaimer that contends "permission" must be obtained from the Lavallette police chief to use the video. The disclaimer did not cite any legal authority requiring "permission" for the use of the video, so it is doubtful whether it would hold up in court given that it is a public record disclosed in response to an OPRA request.
Coombs, for her part, recently prevailed in Monmouth County Superior Court and received two not guilty verdicts in connection with her legal issues. A triumphant Coombs gave an update on her YouTube channel last week.
A Troubled Police Department
The tiny, 1.2 square-mile borough has been rocked with controversy and allegations of nepotism in the police department in recent years.
After former Police Chief Colin Grant - who faced assault charges for allegedly beating his girlfriend and was also the subject of a $650,000 settlement payment in connection with a lawsuit over the 2003 death of 23-year-old Albert Kushinsky who "died after falling while handcuffed" in the custody of Grant - retired, the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office apparently felt that nobody in the department was qualified to take over as chief, so they took over operational control of the Lavallette Police Department in May, 2022.
Citing numerous deficiencies, the OCPO report also found a "meddlesome pattern of behavior by the governing body, current business administrator and current township attorney into the daily operations of the police function(s) of the Department, and continuous attempts to interfere with OCPO’s implementation of plans/directives/policies designed to meet current police standards."
All in the Family
For the Lavallette mayor and his sons, the police department is a family affair. The son of Mayor Walter LaCicero, Christian LaCicero was recently installed as the borough's police chief following a contentious battle with the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office over control of the department, with the borough suing to regain control. The borough council appointed LaCicero as police chief without having any formal training. Similarly, Sergeant Michael Monica was appointed as internal affairs officer without having any formal training either, which apparently caused concern for the prosecutor's office.
LaCicero's other son, Adam LaCicero, is a sergeant in the department now overseen by his brother, and has recently been involved in the high-profile arrests of activists who sought to film public meetings of the Borough's mayor and council.
Sergeant Adam LaCicero arrested and removed the activists from the public meeting at the direction of his father, Mayor Walter LaCicero who presides over the meetings. Those cases remain pending.
Posted on by The OPRAmachine Team
Lacey Township is on the cusp of a groundbreaking move, but it's one that's raising eyebrows and concerns among its residents. The township is gearing up to be the first municipality in the state to embark on a "public-private" partnership deal with Johnson Controls for the construction of a new combined municipal complex and police station. While such partnerships can offer innovative solutions and potential cost savings, this particular arrangement has been met with significant resistance. At the heart of the opposition is a profound concern about transparency, or the lack thereof, in the deal-making process. And a controversial contractual clause hidden in the deal allows Johnson Controls to bring a lawsuit against OPRA requestors to stop the release of information about the project.
The New Jersey State Legislature, in crafting OPRA and enshrining it in N.J.S.A 47:1A-6, was unequivocal: only the individual or entity requesting public records has the right to challenge a denial of access in court. This principle was further solidified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey in its ruling In the Matter of NJ Firemen’s Association, 230 N.J. 258, 271 (2017) where it was clearly stated that “OPRA prohibits record custodians from instituting OPRA suits, a right exclusively reserved for requestors.” See also N. Jersey Media Grp., Inc. v. Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, No. BER-L-6741, 2013 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2766, at *23 (Law Div. Nov. 15, 2013)( “The [OPRA] statute explicitly affords th[at] right to the requestor . . . , not to the government.”)
However, the contract drafted between Lacey Township and Johnson Controls contains language that seems to sidestep these foundational legal tenets. By potentially allowing Johnson Controls to intervene and even challenge the release of public records, the contract not only undermines the spirit of OPRA but also poses a direct threat to its very essence. This isn't a mere contractual oversight; it's a full frontal assault on the principles of transparency, public access, and government accountability.
From the pre-development services agreement:
Lacey resident Gavin Rozzi, the mind behind OPRAmachine and a tireless champion for government transparency, has meticulously examined the intricacies of this partnership. His findings are not just alarming but seem to directly challenge the foundational principles of the New Jersey Open Public Records Act (OPRA). Rozzi didn't mince words in his assessment in a recent Jersey Shore Online article, stating, “The language in the pre-development services agreement is egregious, appalling, and unconscionable. It appears to sign away the Township’s solemn obligation under OPRA to a private for-profit company. This isn't just at odds with public policy; it's a blatant violation of the statute's clear language.”
Given this clear legal framework, the clause in Lacey's agreement with Johnson Controls is not only concerning but appears to be in direct violation of established law. By potentially allowing Johnson Controls to intervene and challenge the release of public records, the agreement undermines the very essence of OPRA and the principles of transparency it upholds.
The implications of this are far-reaching. If such contractual language is allowed to stand, it could set a dangerous precedent, eroding the public's right to access information and undermining the checks and balances that OPRA was designed to ensure. As Lacey Township moves closer to sealing this historic deal, the ramifications extend beyond its borders. This is a clarion call for vigilance, not just for the residents of Lacey Township but for all who believe in the principles of open governance and the public's right to know.
As Lacey Township edges closer to finalizing this historic deal, the stakes are high. The principles enshrined in OPRA, which ensure government accountability and foster public trust, are under threat. It's a situation that demands vigilance from Lacey Township residents and all proponents of transparent governance.
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.