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Freedman v. New Jersey State Police

June 26, 1975


Miller, J.c.c., Temporarily Assigned.


[135 NJSuper Page 298] This summary judgment motion concerns itself with the rights of newspaper reporters to visit and interview migrant farm laborers living in housing provided on a farm by the farmer. Manifestly

there are likewise involved the rights of the farmer who provides such housing and there must be delimited the scope of legitimate public inquiry with relationship to rights of privacy to which the farmer is entitled. The facts have been stipulated and all remaining factual and legal issues were disposed of at earlier stages of the original suit.

Plaintiffs Freedman and Durrel were students at Princeton University. Freedman was a reporter and Durrel a photographer for the Daily Princetonian, the university newspaper. Seeking to write an article about migrant farmworkers in South Jersey, they contacted Douglas Jones, an investigator in the Farmworkers Division of Camden Regional Legal Services for assistance in acquainting themselves with the farmworkers and their problems.

On May 15, 1973 plaintiffs and Jones proceeded to the farm of defendant Sorbello for the purpose of seeking out migrant labor camp conditions. (Two research analysts from the U.S. Labor Department's Bureau of Standards were also present doing random checks on work conditions on the farm; whether their presence was significant or not is unexplained.) Upon arriving at the migrant labor camp site located on the Sorbello farm, Jones went to look for defendant Sorbello to seek his cooperation while the rest of the party remained at the camp site.

While waiting Durrel began taking pictures of the camp site and of defendant. Sorbello demanded that Durrel cease and surrender to him the film. When plaintiffs refused, defendant called the police. A member of the New Jersey State Police responded and requested that the two rolls of film involved be turned over to him. Plaintiffs surrendered the film but maintained that they had a right to keep it. The film at present is in the possession of a municipal magistrate pending the disposition of this suit.

Manifestly there is required here a refinement of the principles enunciated in State v. Shack, 58 N.J. 297 (1971). Sorbello in his argument seeks to limit the access permitted in Shack to "governmental services"; Freedman and Durrel

seek to embed the press within the penumbra of Shack. They rely on the first amendment to the Federal Constitution although this is entirely unnecessary. The N.J. Const. (1947) Art. 1, par. 6, affords identical rights as does the Federal Constitution. It seems unnecessary to invoke federal authority when the protection of our New Jersey system is more than adequate. Cf. National Freight v. Ostroff, 133 N.J. Super. 554, 558 (Law Div. 1975). As a matter of fact, the declaration of rights and privileges in the New Jersey Constitution is far more complete and extensive than its federal counterpart. See, for example, Art. 1, par. 19.

One wonders why parties routinely and without reflection attach themselves to federal constitutional provisions, disregarding identical, and frequently more liberal principles of state constitutions. Anyone who compares the Bill of Rights of the Federal Constitution with the declaration of rights and privileges of the New Jersey Constitution will inexorably be drawn to the conclusion that the State Constitution provides greater protection to individual rights and liberties than the federal. Moreover, there is no tenable thesis that the federal judiciary is more capable of exercising its functions than is the judiciary of this State. This matter, therefore, will be treated as within the scope of the New Jersey constitutional periphery and not of the Federal Constitution, the applicability of which is redundant.

In Shack the Supreme Court required access to farm workers by representatives of "federal, State or local services, or from recognized charitable groups." Shack, 58 N.J. supra at 307. To this was added visitors of the worker's choice and members of the press.

Sorbello does not deny this but points out that the access of the press must be "reasonable" and asks this court to define what is reasonable and to provide guidelines for such access. He points out that the farmer in question has not opened his land to the public; that the visit in question was disruptive and without the ambit ...

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