Tag Archives: governor’s rsvp list

Sunshine Week: Harry Scheeler

Continuing with our Sunshine Week theme, today’s blog focuses on Harry Scheeler.  Recently, CJ Griffin of Pashman Stein secured a victory on Mr. Scheeler’s behalf against the Office of the Governor, which had denied access to RSVP lists for those attending Governor Christie’s Town Halls.

Interview with Harry Scheeler:

  1. When and how did you initially become interested in the open government movement?

I first became interested in open government as a teenager. In the early 1990s the police department in my hometown was given cell phones for the purpose of calling judges for restraining orders and warrants. Over time you could see officers parked in their cars talking on the phone. When I requested copies of the bills they revealed many personal calls being made. At the time, the calls were billed per minute based on peak and off peak. The exposure of these bills in the court of public opinion put a stop to the abuse. The experience proved to me how powerful public oversight is.

  1. What types of government records or open government issues interest you most?

My main interest is testing the willingness of the government to turn over records to the public. When they don’t, I use litigation to enforce the law and compel compliance.

  1. How many OPRA requests do you file a year? How many times would you estimate the public agency violates OPRA? Of those, how many do you actually litigate?

I estimate I file about 100 requests per year. Of those requests there is a 50/50 chance there will be a violation. I attempt to correct the violation with the custodian but most of the time I am met with a bureaucratic attitude which leads to litigation quickly. I would estimate I average 20 lawsuits per year, most of which are filed with the GRC.

  1. If you could persuade the Legislature to amend OPRA, what would be your top suggestions?

I would ask for two things. First, mandatory fines for custodians who repeat a violation. Second, I would have the GRC randomly audit an agency’s compliance with OPRA to identify issues. Currently it appears custodians end up being trained by way of litigation started by activists such as myself.

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

Governor Must Release RSVP Lists for Town Hall Meetings

On February 4, 2015, CJ Griffin of Pashman Stein secured a victory for Harry Scheeler, a prominent open-government activist, in a case against the Office of the Governor which alleged violations of the Open Public Records Act.

In September, Mr. Scheeler requested RSVP lists from Governor Chris Christie’s “town hall” meetings.  The Governor’s Office denied the request, stating that the lists could not be released based on the privacy provisions of OPRA and Executive Order 26.

Mr. Scheeler filed suit in the Superior Court, alleging an OPRA violation.  After litigation, the Governor’s Office released the RSVP lists with names and addresses of the individuals who attended. However, the Governor’s Office insisted that the email addresses for attendees was protected by OPRA’s privacy provisions and thus produced the RSVP lists in redacted form.

On February 4, 2015, the Honorable Mary C. Jacobson, A.J.S.C., heard oral arguments and ruled in Mr. Scheeler’s favor.  Judge Jacobson found that there was no reasonable expectation of privacy for email addresses supplied to a public agency for the purposes of attending a public event or signing up for up for public mailings.   She ordered the Governor’s Office to release the RSVP lists with the email addresses unredacted by February 20, 2015.  The judge also declared Mr. Scheeler a prevailing party entitled to an award of attorneys’ fees.

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