Update: a Bergen Record editorial and front-page story today (7/12/2017) report the important 7-11-2017 NJ Supreme Court decision in which the Court reversed key elements of an appeals court decision and powerfully clarified and expanded the scope of the information available to the public under the NJ Open Public Records Act (OPRA). Both the editorial click here and the story click here describe how NJ’s highest court has now ruled in favor of the North Jersey Media Group about the public availability of dash-cam video information recording the fatal shooting of an African-American man, Kashad Ashford, in Lyndhurst, NJ in 2014.
This Record story on the new, unanimous Supreme Court decision briefly explains the history of this OPRA case as follows: “Reporters for North Jersey Media Group requested several police files and dashboard-camera videos for the Ashford case, and a trial-court judge ordered that they be released.”
That unnamed “trial judge” is former Bergen County assignment judge, Peter Doyne. Judge Doyne’s own understanding of the case – and of his disappointment in initially being overruled by an appeals court – was powerfully described on the night in early January 2016 when Judge Doyne was given BGR’s Byron Baer award. Judge Peter Doyne explained why he ruled in favor of the Record’s request – a ruling that had recently been overturned by an appeals court but has just now basically been affirmed by the State Supreme Court.
Seated left to right: Senator Weinberg, Judge Doyne, Matthew Boxer and Judge Baer Byron Baer Award winner and recent Bergen County Assignment Judge Peter E. Doyne had delivered an extraordinary acceptance speech defining what transparent government involves under NJ’s openness statutes and delineating some of what still needs doing – by the legislature and the courts. We have captured the entire ceremony on video – in four named segments – and the entire verbatim of the speech. It may well have been the most incisive discussion of the complexities of governmental transparency to occur in Bergen County in recent memory. The entire Doyne speech deserves to be watched, but the discussion of the OPRA case just decided begins at minute 18 of that Doyne speech that is found both on You Tube click here or by watching the 3rd among the 4 videos recording the entire Byron Baer evening – and for that click here
When Bergen Grassroots, Inc. proudly announced that the Honorable Peter E. Doyne had been selected as the 5th Byron Baer Public Service award winner – and was receiving that award at the Teaneck Library Auditorium on January 13 – it could not know that that evening would soon become an extraordinary evening in the advancement of transparency in public policy advocacy.
Subsequent to this January 2016 discussion of the Ashford case and its judicial treatment under OPRA, a letter from BGR President Charles Powers praising the Record for its persistence in bringing and pursuing this Powers was published by the Record on 11-15-2016.
Participating in the ceremony for Judge Doyne were Byron Baer’s widow, Judge Linda Baer and two predecessor awardees, NJ State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Matthew Boxer, the only State Comptroller New Jersey has ever confirmed. By the time Judge Baer had reminded the audience of Baer’s commitments to racial justice and achievements as the “father” of NJ’s openness statutes, the evening had already begun to take on a life of its own. Judge Doyne’s reflections on his 22 years as a state judicial leader were dramatically focused on two tough cases. He called for both legislative intervention to preserve the full meaning of open public meetings and served notice that his original decision to require release of law enforcement video – although initially overturned – is being reviewed by the state supreme court. Then the panel and the audience went to work to both remember prior openness work and successes and define the transparency work yet to be done both in the County and in the State . Watch this space for further developments on all these issues.
The Byron Baer Award for Public Service is given annually to recognize the quite different ways in which leaders have made and continue to make major contributions in the ongoing struggle to achieve open and responsive local governance. Click here to see the John Ennslin 12/11/2015 story on Judge Doyne and this event.The first award went to the Record, and specifically to its reporters and editors in recognition of the paper’s media advocacy for strong county Pay-to-Play regulation. The three succeeding awardees further illustrate how individuals working from very different positions and responsibilities can positively affect the openness process. The media stories about the Byron Baer award nights for then State Comptroller Matthew Boxer (2012), for citizen advocate Paul Eisenman (2013) and for legislative openness leader, Senator Loretta Weinberg (2014) together frame that story of diverse contributions. Click here for the Boxer story; click here for the one on Paul Eisenman; and click here for the Weinberg award night story.