Harry B. Scheeler, Jr., the former publisher of GallowayTwpNews.com turned activist, has won his Open Public Records Act (OPRA) lawsuits against the State of New Jersey, which must provide so-called "Bridgegate" and other records to the Woodbine, NJ, resident by August 15.
Aided by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Jersey, Scheeler also filed an OPRA lawsuit against several state agencies and officials seeking release of the records and accusing them of violating OPRA laws.
In his lawsuit against the State of New Jersey, Scheeler had requested copies of all record requests filed in relation to the closure of the George Washington Bridge in September 2013. This was denied by the state, which claimed OPRA requests could not be released due to privacy concerns. Also denied were Scheeler's OPRA requests for records from New Jersey's Motor Vehicle Commission, Military and Veterans Affairs, Department of Law and Public Safety, Alcoholic Beverage Control, Department of Education and the New Jersey State Police — all filed within a 90-day period.
In rejecting the state's claim of privacy, Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson ordered the Christie Administration to turn over the records to Scheeler, noting that many state agencies notify requestors that the request form itself may be considered a public record.
Following the judge's order, ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jeanne LoCicero praised the judge's decision and said the public has a right to basic information concerning how the government handles its obligations.
What Scheeler plans to do with the information provided by the state has yet to be seen, but it should be interesting as the story plays out.
There are two important lessons to be learned from this story. The first is that one individual can confront the most powerful person in the state on a point of law — and win.
The second is the extent to which a powerful individual, in this case Gov. Chris Christie, can be reduced from a potential candidate for President of the United States to a man besieged from almost every side. And, in many respects, it is the governor's well-known "attitude" that has been both the cause of his popularity and his downfall.
As noted in the cover story in Jersey Man Magazine (Volume 3, Number 6), titled "Chris Christie, Taking Jersey-tude Nationwide," the governor generally won praise for his brash, often uncomplimentary comments about both public officials and those with the nerve to question him or his actions. A box on the second page of the article states, "There's no longer any doubt as to whether Chris Christie's Jersey-tude works in the tri-state area. Sixty-plus percent of his fellow New Jerseyans went to the polls and renewed his tenure for another four years."
How do you think he'd make out now?