A Hudson County Superior Court Judge on Friday dismissed a lawsuit filed by the town of North Bergen against a citizen and his attorney who sought access to public records.
The suit sought to have the attorney and his client sanctioned for filing a frivolous lawsuit earlier this year in which the defendants claimed the town had erected unreasonable financial barriers to fulfill their request for public documents. The town also sought to have the pair pay the town’s legal fees in this case.
However Judge Maureen Mantineo ruled against the township, saying the lawsuit brought by attorney Mario Blanch and his client Luis Gutierrez was not frivolous and the town is not entitled to monetary compensation. The judge also said that the public is entitled to have access to public records.
Gutierrez and Blanch earlier this year filed 51 Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests with North Bergen Township seeking 175 documents from the town, the local Board of Education and other town agencies. The OPRA request was filed in March. In April, the town responded to Gutierrez’s request by saying that he would have to pony up at least $42,000 for the documents.
In response, Blanch filed the lawsuit on behalf of his client Gutierrez – a member of The North Bergen Concerned CItizens Group – saying that the cost was excessive and presented a barrier to citizens trying to obtain public documents that they are entitled to under the law.
Blanch and Gutierrez were threatened by attorneys representing the town in the OPRA case that if they brought legal action against the town because of the fees the town is seeking to comply with their public records request, they would be sued and that sanctions would be brought against both the attorney and his client. The town attorneys from the firm Chasen Lamparello also said Blanch and Gutierrez would be sued for legal fees the town spent in fighting the release of public documents.
Nevertheless, Blanch refused to drop his suit.