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Burzichelli Bill to Improve Mediation Process for Public Records Disputes Clears Panel

Legislation Assembly Deputy Speaker John Burzichelli sponsored to facilitate the process of resolving disputes over access to government records was advanced by an Assembly panel on Monday.

The bill (A-4435) would require non-binding mediation in disputes involving access to public records.

“The majority of mediated disputes concerning public records are resolved by mediation, but the problem is that only one in five record complaints is even referred to mediation,” said Burzichelli (D-Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem). “This legislation has the potential to increase the number of disputes over access to government records that are resolved in New Jersey at a lower cost to taxpayers.”

Under the bill, the Government Records Council may use the Dispute Settlement Office in the Office of the Public Defender to mediate any dispute regarding access to a government record. Should mediation fail, the Government Records Council would then investigate the complaint, hold a hearing and adjudicate the claim for access to the record, which would include the issuance of an advisory opinion regarding whether the record in question is indeed a publicly accessible government record. Following adjudication, an individual would have the right to bring a proceeding in superior court.

Under current law, a person denied access to a government record may either challenge the decision in superior court or file a complaint with the Government Records Council. Presently, if a person elects to file a complaint with the council, he or she has the option of participating in mediation, but is not required to do so.

Burzichelli noted that by requiring mediation, the legislation will save the courts time and taxpayer dollars.

The measure was advanced by the Assembly Appropriations Committee, of which Burzichelli is chair.