You don’t have to have a lawyer on staff, or pay hefty legal fees, in order file a suit under New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA). If a government agency is failing to provide public documents — or if the documents you receive are overly-redacted — and you feel that you’ll need to go to court to get them, there are members of the NJ bar who will take such cases on contingency. These attorneys will take the risk, and file with the court for their legal fees if your case prevails.
“If I think it’s a good OPRA case, I’ll take it,” says Walter Luers, a Clinton-based OPRA lawyer who has represented both New Brunswick Today and Planet Princeton. Luers does insist that a prospective client have a written denial of their request. He will also cover the filing fees.
Don Doherty, based in West Berlin, also takes OPRA cases on contingency, and if he thinks that the case could be resolved without going to court — just by refining an “overbroad” request, for instance — he’ll give that advice free as well.
“People tend to remember that they lawyer who helped them out,” he says.
Doherty says that, because of his OPRA experience, he can offer quick turn-around, and can often file a case within two days. Doherty, who has done contingency work for New Jersey Watchdog, also covers the filing fees.
Montclair-based Richard Gutman is a third lawyer who takes OPRA cases on contingency and has done work for John Paff, chairman of the Open Government Advocacy Project at New Jersey Libertarian Party. He will do contingency work for small news organizations that don’t have the money to hire a lawyer, but does expect the client to pay the $230 court filing fees.
Walter Luers, firstname.lastname@example.org, 908-894-5656.
Don Doherty, email@example.com, 609-336-1297.
Richard Gutman, firstname.lastname@example.org, 973-744-6038.
Sam Samaro email@example.com 201-488-8200.
C.J. Griffin firstname.lastname@example.org 201.488.8200.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons.