Newspaper Wins Open-Records Fight

By: A New Jersey school board that refused to provide complete minutes of board meetings was ordered to pay $18,000 in penalties and legal fees after a newspaper sued.

Under the state law, government bodies are required to make available to the public minutes of all their meetings, including those held in closed session, which the public may not attend.

In January, The Press of Atlantic City sued the Pleasantville Board of Education, claiming it had refused to provide records of five closed session meetings held last year.

According to billing records, the school district spent nearly $33,000 defending itself in the suit. Last week, Superior Court Judge Steven Perskie ordered the district to pay the Press $15,000 to reimburse the newspaper's legal fees -- and $3,000 in penalties.

The total cost for the district to withhold the records came to just over $50,000, The Press reported in Monday's newspapers.

"I think it's unconscionable that any public entity would waste money that could go to student services but instead went to legal fees," said John Deserable, a state-appointed special monitor who will begin overseeing the district's finances July 2.


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