With Governor Murphy’s inauguration only a few weeks away, the Appellate Division issued a timely opinion reaffirming that records showing the deliberations of the Governor’s Office are entitled to confidentiality.
New York Public Radio v. Office of the Governor involved an OPRA and common law request for “town priority lists” (TPL), which were used several years ago by Gov. Christie’s office to determine the municipalities that the office would focus on to build support for the Governor. In 2016, the Appellate Division held that these documents were exempt under OPRA as deliberative material, but remanded for consideration of requestor’s common law claim.
The trial judge denied the common law claim, and the requestor appealed. On December 19, 2017, the Appellate Division upheld this denial of access.
The opinion doesn’t indicate what argument the requestor made to claim that there was an interest in public disclosure of the lists. It doesn’t appear the requestor had much of an argument in this regard, as it even emphasized to the court that the TPLs were no longer in use.
In any event, the Appellate Division did not base its ruling on its evaluation of the strength or weakness of the requestor’s interest in disclosure of the TPLs; instead, the court focused on the substantial public interest in maintaining the confidentiality of communications reflecting governmental decisionmaking. Notably, it stated that this interest remains strong even after the decision has been made.
It’s useful to have a reminder from the Appellate Division of a crucial aspect of effective government operation–that deliberative material is entitled to a strong presumption of confidentiality.