NEWARK, N.J. -- The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey filed a motion to dismiss today in an action brought against it by the Evesham Township School District in response to the ACLU-NJ's request for public records relating to a controversy over whether the district should include as part of its curriculum a film that acknowledges gay family life.
"A public agency suing community members for exercising their right to obtain public information is antithetical to the spirit of transparent democracy and letter of the law." said Jeanne LoCicero, ACLU-NJ Staff Attorney. "Evesham School District has no business hauling us into court over a public records request; they are attempting heavy-handed tactics to avoid accountability under the state's open public records laws."
On August 30, 2007, the ACLU-NJ requested public records, including e-mails to and from Evesham Board of Education members regarding the Board's consideration of the video "That's A Family!" The Board Members use private e-mail accounts to conduct board business. The District provided some of the documents, but took the position that e-mails on private e-mail accounts are not public records and refused to turn them over.
In its papers to the court, the ACLU-NJ argues that the state's open public records law, known as "OPRA", gives the public records requestor - and not the government entity - the right to choose if and how to challenge the denial of documents.
Simultaneous with its court filing, the ACLU has filed a Denial of Access Complaint with New Jersey's Government Records Council, the administrative agency authorized by statute to hear complaints against government entities who withhold documents.
"Open government is a central principle of democracy and lawsuits like this are used to intimidate people from seeking information that they have a right to," said LoCicero. "Taxpayers in Evesham pay an additional price - resources from their school budget are being wasted with this meritless litigation."
The case is captioned Evesham Towship Board of Education v. American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and was filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey in Burlington County. Information about the ACLU-NJ's work on open government is available online at: /theissues/opengovernment