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Maurice River Tp. Bd. of Educ. v. Maurice River Township Teachers Association

Decided: February 22, 1984.

MAURICE RIVER TP. BD. OF EDUC., PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
MAURICE RIVER TOWNSHIP TEACHERS ASSOCIATION AND NEW JERSEY EDUCATION ASSOCIATION, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Cumberland County. 187 N.J. Super. 566.

Bischoff, Petrella and Brody. The opinion of the court was delivered by Bischoff, P.J.A.D.

Bischoff

[193 NJSuper Page 489] The issue presented by this appeal is whether the Maurice River Township Teachers Association (Association) may record

by means of videotape the public meetings of the Township Board of Education (Board). The trial court, in an opinion published at 187 N.J. Super. 566 (Ch.Div.1982), held that it could. We affirm.

The plaintiff Board in October 1982 was engaged in contract negotiations with defendant Association, an affiliate of the defendant New Jersey Education Association. "Negotiations had been difficult and unproductive." On October 19 the Association notified the Board that it intended to videotape the Board's October 21, 1982 regularly scheduled public meeting. The Board informed the Association that it was not permitted to do so. The Association, nevertheless, proceeded to set up its equipment and to videotape the meeting. When the Association would not desist the Board adjourned the meeting and instituted this action to enjoin further videotaping of its meetings.

Plaintiff alleged the equipment and the videotaping were "obtrusive, distracting, disruptive and disturbing, not only to the members of the Board of Education but also to certain members of the public, and is otherwise not condusive [sic] to the conducting of an orderly business meeting."

Defendant, on the other hand, contended their videotaping activities were orderly, unobtrusive and not distracting or disturbing; that the Board's refusal to proceed with the meeting constituted a de facto ban on the videotaping and was an arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable action and an impermissible prior restraint. The Association further contended its right to attend the open portion of the Board meeting included a constitutional right to use the most accurate means to gather and disseminate information to its members, and it had the statutory right as an employee representative pursuant to N.J.S.A. 34:13A-5.3 to videotape the public meeting.

The court examined the videotape equipment the Association proposed to use. It found the equipment was "silent, inoffensive and unobtrusive"; that its use was neither distracting nor inhibiting and entered a summary judgment permitting defendant

to videotape plaintiff's public meeting subject to guidelines which were fashioned after the Supreme Court's guidelines for "still and television camera and audio coverage of proceedings in the courts of New Jersey."

On this appeal the Board contends the case was not ripe for summary judgment, that N.J.S.A. 34:13A-5.3 does not permit the Association to videotape the Board's meetings, that the Association has no constitutional right to videotape public meetings, that the records of the school board's meetings are accurately preserved through the use of written minutes and tape records, and the guidelines ordered by the trial court are vague and unworkable.

We determined at oral argument that since the entry of the judgment under review on December 13, 1982, the Association has continued to videotape the Board's public meetings without incident. The equipment used has consisted of a single camera placed in the rear of the room on a tripod. The camera is silent and operates without augmented or supplemental lighting. The rather large TV monitors which were in the room on the occasion of the first videotaping are no longer present or used. The only objection conveyed to us by the plaintiff was the statement that the members of the Board were uncomfortable with the eye of the camera pointed at them and they felt inhibited. They also expressed the concern that members of the public would feel inhibited and therefore refrain from participating in public meetings. Counsel for the Board was unable to suggest any other facts which it would present if the case were returned to the trial court of a plenary hearing. We reject the initial contention of the Board that the summary judgment proceedings were premature.

The Board argues that the Association has no express federal or state constitutional or statutory right to videotape the public meetings of the Board. That may be so, but on the other hand the Board points to no constitutional or statutory bar to ...


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