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Maurice River Township Board of Education v. Maurice River Township Teachers Association

Decided: November 24, 1982.

MAURICE RIVER TOWNSHIP BOARD OF EDUCATION, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MAURICE RIVER TOWNSHIP TEACHERS ASSOCIATION AND NEW JERSEY EDUCATION ASSOCIATION, DEFENDANT



Edward S. Miller, J.s.c.

Miller

This application by the Maurice River Township Board of Education raises for the first time the question of the right of a member of the public to record the proceedings of a public body by means of videotape. It does not involve any form of the news media; hence the issue of freedom of the press as guaranteed by N.J. Const. (1947), Art. I, par. 6, does not apply. The state constitutional provisions being broader and more liberal than similar provisions in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, the state provisions govern, leaving to the courts the more restrictive similar guarantees. State v. Deatore, 70 N.J. 100, 112 (1976); State v. Johnson, 68 N.J. 349, 353 (1975). The facts are simple.

Plaintiff Maurice River Township Board of Education was engaged in a labor dispute with its teachers, represented by defendant Maurice River Township Teachers Association. Negotiations had been difficult and unproductive and a factfinding session had been scheduled.

At a regularly scheduled public meeting of the board of education held October 21, 1982, representatives of the Teachers Association attended and attempted to record the proceedings by means of a videotaping machine.

They were requested by the board to desist; they declined to do so, following which the board called the State Police (the municipality does not have a regular police department). Since a solution could not be found, an impasse occurred and the board recessed the meeting and forthwith filed this action to restrain the Association (and presumably any other person) from videotaping any future meeting.

At a hearing on the application for a temporary restraining order the court granted temporary restraints, first, to defuse the labor problem and second, to allow the parties to adequately

brief the issues and to prepare a record. The matter now comes before the court on a return date of the order to show cause, and the record is such that the court is able to apply its final decision. Meanwhile, the labor dispute has been settled, although the Teachers Association has declared its intention to videotape further sessions of the board. The matter is now ripe for decision.

First, there is really no question as to the application of the Open Public Meetings Act, N.J.S.A. 10:4-6 et seq. The board concedes it applies and, except as insofar as the failure to allow videotaping is concerned, this is not strenuously contested by the teachers. The board does, however, take the position that it has the right to bar videotapes because such a procedure would disrupt the meeting and is likely to be distracting and intimidating. It further argues that the constitutional and statutory safeguards against evils of clandestine and unlawful means are completely cured by the fact that all meetings are tape-recorded and the tape is preserved by the board secretary and is available to anyone for audition and transcription.

No reported decision exists, although Sudol v. North Arlington, 137 N.J. Super. 149 (Ch.Div.1975), permitted the tape recording of a meeting of a governing body. Likewise, Guarriello v. Benson, 90 N.J. Super. 233 (Law Div.1966) dealt on a narrow basis with the right of a member of the public to re-record a properly recorded tape of a public meeting.

This court holds that a member of the public has the right to videotape a public meeting, subject to certain restrictions which this court will impose herein, and that the public body involved has no power to arbitrarily forbid such action. This right is bottomed not upon the statute but upon common law commitment to (paraphrasing Woodrow Wilson) "open government openly arrived at." Indoctrinated by centuries of the bitter, costly and painful process of liberation from the yoke of autocratic government, the founders of this country understood clearly the necessity of free and open discussion. The excesses

of the Star Chamber were not forgotten by our forebearers, nor are they unknown to ...


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