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Environmental Legal Victory: Citizen’s Rights Protected

Date : Thu, 5 Jul 2012 17:09:18 -0400

For Immediate Release
July 05, 2012 Contact:Jeff Tittel, Director, NJ Sierra Club, 609-558-9100

Environmental Legal Victory: Citizen’s Rights Protected

Today the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that public and university law clinic documents should not be subject to the Open Public Records Act (OPRA), reversing the Appellate decision.Developer Sussex Common Associates LLC sued the Rutgers Environmental Law Clinic for refusing to release documents under OPRA pertaining to their work challenging the construction of an outlet mall by the developer.*Jeff Tittel, Director, NJ Sierra Club* issued the following statement in response:

"This case is a real victory for the environment especially for groups and citizens who are involved in litigation.Had the Appellate Division ruling stood it would have severely limited the rights of environmental advocates and others to sue or be represented by law clinics."

"This is a victory for stopping SLAPP suits, which is strategic litigation against public participation.The developer sued a local group opposing their planned outlet mall.The developer submitted an OPRA request for all the documents and files that Rutgers had on the case, claiming the clinic is a public entity and therefore subject to OPRA.They were trying to get documents that they could not get through the discovery process with this OPRA request so that they could individually harass and sue the members of the local environmental group.The OPRA request was a fishing expedition for the SLAPP suit and if it had been granted, the developer would have been able to find out all the internal documents and strategies related to the case.We are grateful the Supreme Court reversed the Appellate decision on this case.This is a real win to stop SLAPP suits."

"It now means that environmental and citizen groups can be represented by law clinics connected to universities without fear of witch hunts and harassing lawsuits.These entities are able to continue their very important and necessary work in protecting citizens and the environment."

"This decision upholds the integrity of our educational institutions and means environmental groups and advocates will continue to have access to these institutions for legal services.Had the Appellate Division case stood, we would have lost access to courts and would be subject to slap suits and other harassment."

"Had the Appellate Division ruling stood citizen groups and others could not have been represented by public counsels because of OPRA requests being used against them.This would have affected the Constitutional Law Clinic, the Education Law Center and all the other law clinics and public entities that help citizens with legal matters."

"This is an important victory for the environment and citizens’ rights to have access to the courts and to have proper representation.We will continue to be able to litigate to protect the environment and the rights of citizens.Had everything a law clinic did be subject to OPRA, it would prevent them from litigating on behalf of citizen groups because they would not have been able to keep strategy or documents private."

"This is not only a great victory but a great way to celebrate the 4^th of July by reaffirming citizens’ rights, the right to have legal counsel and to access the courts without fear of harassment.The loss of legal access is justice denied and this is a clear win for justice."

"The Rutgers Environmental Law Clinic offers a vital teaching service to law students.Their funding for litigation comes from grants and other non-public sources."

"The Rutgers Environmental Law Clinic has won many landmark cases to help further environmental protections in the state of New Jersey including the Hudson River Walkway, beach access, anti-degradation requirements for clean water, protections for clean air, wetlands and open spaces, and environmental justice.We have been represented numerous times by the Rutgers Environmental Law Clinic.Without the Clinic, New Jersey’s air and water would be a lot dirtier and our land more subject to sprawl and overdevelopment.With this ruling these clinics can continue to do their work, which is protecting people from pollution and upholding environmental laws.This is clearly a landmark ruling for those who care about the environment."

"We applaud the Supreme Court for standing up for the rights of citizens and the environment," said Jeff Tittel, Director, NJ Sierra Club. The ruling can be viewed at: http:www.judiciary.state.nj.us/opinions/supreme/A9710SussexCommonsvRutgers.pdf<a>

- Kate Millsaps Program Assistant NJ Chapter of the Sierra Club 609-656-7612

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New Jersey Sierra Club, 145 West Hanover St., Trenton, NJ 08618, USA
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