747 A.2d 809 (N.J.Super.A.D. 2000), Williams v. Board of Educ. of Atlantic City Public Schools

Citation747 A.2d 809, 329 N.J.Super. 308
Opinion Judge[8]
Party NameDr. H. Benjamin WILLIAMS, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. The BOARD OF EDUCATION OF the ATLANTIC CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS, Alberto Lopez, President of the Atlantic City Board of Education, Theresa Perry, Daniel Gallagher, Matthew Doran, James Herzog and Theresa Kelly, Individually and Jointly, Defendants.and The Press of Atlantic City, Defendant/Intervenor-app
Attorney[6] Nelson C. Johnson argued the cause for
Case DateMarch 28, 2000
CourtSuperior Court of New Jersey

Page 809

747 A.2d 809 (N.J.Super.A.D. 2000)

329 N.J.Super. 308

Dr. H. Benjamin WILLIAMS, Plaintiff-Respondent,

v.

The BOARD OF EDUCATION OF the ATLANTIC CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS, Alberto Lopez, President of the Atlantic City Board of Education, Theresa Perry, Daniel Gallagher, Matthew Doran, James Herzog and Theresa Kelly, Individually and Jointly, Defendants.and

The Press of Atlantic City, Defendant/Intervenor-appellant.

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division.

March 28, 2000

Argued Nov. 9, 1999.

Page 810

[329 N.J.Super. 311] Nelson C. Johnson, Hammonton, for appellant.

Gregory G. Johnson, Newark, for respondent.

Before Judges D'ANNUNZIO, NEWMAN and FALL.

The opinion of the court was delivered by

NEWMAN, J.A.D.

This appeal by the intervenor, The Press of Atlantic City (the Press), raises an issue of first impression regarding the accessibility under the Right-to-Know Law, N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1 to -4, of tenure charge documents filed by a school district against a superintendent of schools. The motion judge ruled that these documents

Page 811

were exempted from the Right-to-Know Law and denied access to the Press. We hold that tenure charge documents are "public records" within the meaning of the Right-to-Know Law, are not exempted from the Right-to-Know-Law's unrestricted right to public disclosure, and access to them should have been granted upon request.

Initially, we recognize that the documents which were initially sought by the Press have since been accessed, but not, of course, at the time when first requested. Although, technically, the matter has been mooted and we ordinarily decline to decide moot appeals, we will on occasion "rule on such matters where they are of substantial importance and are capable of repetition, yet evade review." Mistrick v. Division of Med. Assistance & Health Servs., 154 N.J. 158, 165, 712 A.2d 188 (1998); New Jersey Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. J.B., 120 N.J. 112, 118-19, 576 A.2d 261 (1990) (finding that press access to preliminary hearing involving emergency removal of a child from custody was a substantial issue of public importance). We deem the issue before us to be of significant public importance and capable of repetition, thereby warranting our full consideration.

In a closed session on June 3, 1998, the Atlantic City Board of Education (the Board) determined to suspend plaintiff, Dr. H. [329 N.J.Super. 312] Benjamin Williams, from his position as superintendent of schools and place him on administrative leave, directed its labor counsel to investigate the institution of tenure charges against Dr. Williams, named an acting superintendent, and authorized a search for a replacement.

Dr. Williams commenced an action against the Board and several Board members on June 8, 1998, seeking to set aside the June 3, 1998 action which resulted in his suspension. On June 12, 1998, emergent relief was denied.

On or about July 10, 1998, Dr. Williams filed an amended complaint setting forth various claims which alleged violations of the Open Public Meetings Act and that plaintiff's suspension and the appointment of an acting superintendent were arbitrary and capricious; alleged a violation of the Law Against Discrimination, contending that Dr. Williams's suspension was racially motivated; alleged that defendants violated the Tenure Employees Hearing Law by making public disclosures about the tenure charges and plaintiff's termination; and alleged violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and § 1985 and violations of Dr. Williams's constitutional and common law right of privacy and of the Civil Rights Act of 1991. Defendants answered the complaint.

On or about July 29, 1998, the Board filed tenure charges against plaintiff.

On August 20, 1998, the Press filed a motion to intervene and to obtain a copy of the tenure charges which included supporting documents. On September 11, 1998, the motion judge permitted the Press to intervene in this action, but denied its motion for disclosure of the tenure charges. The motion judge concluded:

I think it's clear that [the Legislature or Governors] intended that these things be done outside the...

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9 practice notes
  • 864 A.2d 446 (N.J.Super.L. 2004), Asbury Park Press v. Ocean County Prosecutor's Office
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court of New Jersey
    • September 28, 2004
    ...are requested if there is a clear right to obtain them under the statute. Williams v. Bd. of Educ. of Atlantic City Public Schools, 329 N.J.Super. 308, 314, 747 A.2d 809, 812 (App.Div.), certif. denied, 165 N.J. 488, 758 A.2d 648 (2000). Yet, that principle becomes less absolute if there is......
  • 846 A.2d 659 (N.J.Super.A.D. 2004), Times of Trenton Pub. Corp. v. Lafayette Yard Community Development Corp.
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court of New Jersey
    • April 30, 2004
    ...47:1A-1. A newspaper has the same right of access to public records as a private citizen. Williams v. Bd. of Educ. of Atlantic City, 329 N.J.Super. 308, 747 A.2d 809 (App.Div.), certif. denied, 165 N.J. 488, 758 A.2d 648 (2000). A "public agency" is defined in the OPRA as "an......
  • Paff v. Chatham, 102811 NJSUP, A-2350-10T1
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court of New Jersey
    • October 28, 2011
    ...Jersey Publ'g Co., supra, 124 N.J. 478, 495 (discussing the Executive Order); Williams v. Bd. of Educ. of Atlantic City Pub. Schools, 329 N.J.Super. 308, 317 (App. Div. 2000) (same). To the extent that Chatham divulged information pertaining to the officer's suspension, it did not by its di......
  • Simadiris v. Paterson Public School District, 012121 NJSUP, A-0197-19T3
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court of New Jersey
    • January 21, 2021
    ...surprising, that Cirangle has been cited only once, see Williams v. Board of Educ., Atlantic City Public Schools, 329 N.J.Super. 308, 316 (App. Div. 2000), in its forty-two years on the books and then only for a largely irrelevant reason.4 On the other hand, Rice has bee......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
9 cases
  • 864 A.2d 446 (N.J.Super.L. 2004), Asbury Park Press v. Ocean County Prosecutor's Office
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court of New Jersey
    • September 28, 2004
    ...are requested if there is a clear right to obtain them under the statute. Williams v. Bd. of Educ. of Atlantic City Public Schools, 329 N.J.Super. 308, 314, 747 A.2d 809, 812 (App.Div.), certif. denied, 165 N.J. 488, 758 A.2d 648 (2000). Yet, that principle becomes less absolute if there is......
  • 846 A.2d 659 (N.J.Super.A.D. 2004), Times of Trenton Pub. Corp. v. Lafayette Yard Community Development Corp.
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court of New Jersey
    • April 30, 2004
    ...47:1A-1. A newspaper has the same right of access to public records as a private citizen. Williams v. Bd. of Educ. of Atlantic City, 329 N.J.Super. 308, 747 A.2d 809 (App.Div.), certif. denied, 165 N.J. 488, 758 A.2d 648 (2000). A "public agency" is defined in the OPRA as "an......
  • Paff v. Chatham, 102811 NJSUP, A-2350-10T1
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court of New Jersey
    • October 28, 2011
    ...Jersey Publ'g Co., supra, 124 N.J. 478, 495 (discussing the Executive Order); Williams v. Bd. of Educ. of Atlantic City Pub. Schools, 329 N.J.Super. 308, 317 (App. Div. 2000) (same). To the extent that Chatham divulged information pertaining to the officer's suspension, it did not by its di......
  • Simadiris v. Paterson Public School District, 012121 NJSUP, A-0197-19T3
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court of New Jersey
    • January 21, 2021
    ...surprising, that Cirangle has been cited only once, see Williams v. Board of Educ., Atlantic City Public Schools, 329 N.J.Super. 308, 316 (App. Div. 2000), in its forty-two years on the books and then only for a largely irrelevant reason.4 On the other hand, Rice has bee......
  • Request a trial to view additional results