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New Jersey developer is denied open records request

When New Jersey businesses are entangled in complicated disputes and litigation, it can feel like nobody wins. Because of this, it is often preferable to handle things byway of arbitration instead. However, sometimes litigation is the only way to resolve a dispute that is causing financial harm to a business.

A Seacaucus, New Jersey, based developer recently lost a New Jersey Supreme Court case related to seeking access to records of a Rutgers University law clinic. The developer sued the environmental litigation clinic for copies of communications between the clinic and opponents of the developer's proposed outlet mall.

The legal clinic represented several groups who were opposed to the mall.

The developer lost the case during trial, but then won an appeal. However, New Jersey's highest court has now reversed the appellate court's decision.

The developer had requested the copies of communications under the Open Public Records Act, since the legal clinic was a part of Rutgers, which is a state institution. The state Supreme Court found, however, that OPRA does not apply in this case.

OPRA allows the public access to documents that record workings inside of the government, but this clinical legal program did not have any government functions, the court ruled. Rather, it teaches law students how to practice law.

The developer said that it brought the dispute to litigation because it wanted to know why the university law clinic was involved with blocking the development. The developer said that students were not involved in the representation of the mall's opponents.

The New Jersey Sierra Club was happy with the ruling, and said that if the appeals decision had remained it would have limited the rights of environmental groups to be represented by university law clinics.

Source: NJBiz.com, "Seacaucus developer loses open records case against Rutgers legal clinic," Andrew Kitchenman, July 5, 2012

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