Rivera v. Union Cty. Prosecutor’s Off.

The New Jersey Supreme Court tackled the question of how to balance the need for confidentiality in internal affairs investigations with the public’s interest in transparency when a member of the public seeks access to records of an investigation. A complaint alleged that Elizabeth Police Director used racist and sexist language to refer to employees on multiple occasions. In response, the Prosecutor’s Office conducted an internal affairs investigation. The Office then sustained the complaints; ten days later, the Attorney General issued a public statement describing the investigation and its conclusion and calling upon the Director to resign, which he did. The plaintiff filed a request for records with the Prosecutor’s Office based on the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and the common law. The Prosecutor’s Office denied the request on the ground that it was “exempt from disclosure under OPRA” and not subject to disclosure under the common law. The plaintiff filed a complaint against the Prosecutor’s Office and its records custodian, relying on OPRA and the common law. The trial court concluded the internal affairs report should be made available under OPRA. The Appellate Division reversed, and the Supreme Court reversed and remanded. The Court held that OPRA does not permit access to internal affairs reports. However, those records can and should be disclosed under the common law right of access — subject to appropriate redactions — when interests that favor disclosure outweigh confidentiality concerns. The Court provided guidance on how to conduct that balancing test. In this case, the Court ruled that the internal affairs report should be disclosed after the trial court reviewed it and redacted parts that raise legitimate confidentiality concerns.

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