May I Request Public Employee’s emails?

Many clients ask whether the emails sent to or from a public employee or public official are subject to the Open Public Records Act (OPRA).  The answer is yes – if the email would be considered a “government record,” if it had been sent via snail mail or some other method of correspondence, then it is subject to OPRA. Even if the public officials or employees are using a personal email address or their personal computer, the emails are subject to OPRA if they are discussing the public agency’s official business.  When making a request, we therefore recommend that you seek both emails, from both the public employee’s official work email address as well as their private email address.

Though there is very little guidance from the courts on this issue, the GRC has held that a valid request for emails requires the following:

  • Date range. Note that the range must not be overbroad—requests for months or years of emails may very likely be held to be too broad.
  • Subject matter. We recommend stating the subject matter and indicating that you wish the custodian to search both the subject line and the content of the emails.
  • Identity of the Sender or Recipient. You do not need to know both the sender and the recipient.

An example of a request likely to be found valid is:  “Copies of all emails to or from Mayor Jones (using his official township email address or his personal email address) from August 1 to August 15, 2014 regarding the Fourth of July Parade (please search both the subject line and body of the email).”

Until a New Jersey court rules differently, we recommend putting all three of the above items in a request for emails.

For more information about this blog post or any other OPRA question, please contact cgriffin@pashmanstein.com.

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