Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Public Annoucements of Lawsuit Settlements

Too often the public is kept in the dark when lawsuits are settled even though those lawsuits are settled with tax dollars. Recently, the County Watchers uncovered one such instance where the settlement details of a lawsuit would never have been public knowledge if not for the County Watchers' tireless efforts.  See here and here

Recently, I was told that the lawsuit filed by former Linden employee, Dawn Kologi, was also settled, yet no information has been made public. Why?  The public has every right to know. 

One gutsy town is considering making the terms and amounts of settlements public knowledge by announcing them at public meetings.   From New Jersey Open Government:

"Andover Township (Sussex County) is presently considering an ordinance that would require the mayor, at the following Township Committee meeting, to "publicly announce the amount and terms of" any judgment or settlement arising out of a civil lawsuit against the Township or its employees."

See full story here

As John Paff of New Jersey Open Government notes, it takes a great deal of effort to track information and encourages citizens to request their municipalities to adopt a similar ordinance.  This should not be an option; it should be a requirement for any town, county or state agency when public monies are used to settle cases.  Taxpayers shouldn't have to hunt down this information.  Get on with it already. 

Another case, Asbury Park Press v. Monmouth, A-8-09,  has made its way through the Courts, reaching the Supreme Court, regarding whether sexual harrassment settlements should be subject to the Open Public Records Act.   That decision is pending.  Not only should the Supreme Court allow the public to review such settlements, make it RETROACTIVE. 

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