As part of furthering the ACLU of New Jersey’s criminal justice and transparency priorities, on November 4, 2019, we filed suit against the County Prosecutors’ Association of New Jersey (CPANJ) to challenge their denial of access to records under New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and the common law. We know from advocacy and litigation experience that CPANJ is an important entity in criminal justice policy making and implementation across the state; accordingly, the ACLU-NJ is in the process of documenting and mapping exactly what that power is and how county prosecutors wield it. To that end, we requested records of CPANJ’s meeting minutes, agendas, and filed amicus briefs, but were denied on the basis that CPANJ is not a public agency.
In response we are alleging that, while incorporated as 501(c)(3), CPANJ is operating as a public agency subject to OPRA, as set forth in Fair Share Housing Center v. League of Municipalities and its progeny, a line of cases in which courts have found that similarly established nonprofits are operating as public agencies. In support, we have shown that CPANJ is made up solely of county prosecutors who are appointees of the Governor and paid by the state. Its purpose (to maintain close cooperation between the AG and county prosecutors) is inextricably linked to public functions while it uses government resources (including county prosecutor time and the time of their staff) for its work (e.g., meetings, drafting amicus briefs, even replying to the ACLU-NJ’s emails and briefs), and its meetings are often being held at the AG’s office.
We are filing a response to CPANJ’s motion to dismiss our complaint and are awaiting a date for oral argument.