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In re Petition of Nigris

Decided: July 17, 1990.

IN RE PETITION OF MICHAEL J. NIGRIS TO SEAL CERTAIN CONFIDENTIAL MATERIAL IN ACCORDANCE WITH N.J.S.A. 5:12-74(E)


On appeal from final order of the New Jersey Casino Control Commission.

J.h. Coleman, Brody and Skillman. The opinion of the court was delivered by Skillman, J.A.D.

Skillman

[242 NJSuper Page 625] The primary issue presented by this appeal is whether section 74(e) of the Casino Control Act (the Act), N.J.S.A. 5:12-1 et seq., requires the Casino Control Commission (the Commission) to seal any exhibit admitted into evidence at a public hearing which contains "information and data pertaining to an applicant's criminal record, family and background."

The issue arose in the context of an application for a casino license filed by Griffin Company following its acquisition of and merger with Resorts International, Inc. In August 1988, Mervyn Griffin (Griffin), who holds a substantial interest in Griffin Company, was informed by an investment banker involved in financing the Resorts acquisition that he had learned that Michael J. Nigris (Nigris), the then President, Treasurer and Chief Executive Officer of Griffin Company, had questionable business associations which could have a negative impact upon the Commission's consideration of Griffin Company's pending casino application. Mr. Griffin then retained a private investigating firm, which provided an oral report to him confirming the adverse information about Nigris. Upon receipt of this oral report in August 1988, Griffin removed Nigris from any involvement in his casino operations but continued to employ him until late May or early June 1989 in connection with his non-casino businesses. On October 25, 1988, Mr. Griffin received a written summary prepared by the private investigating firm which contained more detailed information relating to Nigris' questionable business associations.

Prior to the commencement of the hearing on Griffin Company's application, Nigris became aware that the Division of Gaming Enforcement (the Division) intended to introduce evidence relating to his background and business relationships. This evidence included the memorandum submitted to Griffin in October 1988 summarizing the results of the private investigation of Nigris, a report prepared by the Division regarding Nigris' qualifications, a summary of an interview of Nigris conducted by the Division's investigators and a transcript of a sworn interview of Nigris. The primary import of these exhibits was that Nigris had close business associations with Ernest Barbella (reputed to be "a member of La Cosa Nostra"), Herbert S. Cannon (a disbarred lawyer with two bank fraud convictions and numerous securities laws convictions), and Peter Aiello ("a frequent securities law violator"). This information was pertinent to whether Mr. Griffin's continued employment

of Nigris from August 1988 until late May or early June 1989 reflected adversely upon Griffin's "good character, honesty and integrity" and thus was grounds under N.J.S.A. 5:12-84(c) for denial of a casino license.

Nigris' counsel sent two letters to the Commission requesting it to seal these exhibits in order to prevent their public disclosure. After reviewing the documents and hearing arguments of counsel, the Commission denied Nigris' application.

Nigris then appealed to this court. A single judge temporarily stayed the unsealing of the documents but permitted reference to the documents in counsel's summations and in the Commission's final decision.

The Commission issued a final decision on September 27, 1989 granting Griffin Company's application for a plenary casino license. A full panel of this court entered an order on October 10, 1989, staying the unsealing of the documents pending a final decision on Nigris' appeal. The Supreme Court subsequently denied the Division's motion to vacate the stay.

This appeal turns primarily on the interpretation of section 74(e) (N.J.S.A. 5:12-74(e)), which provides:

All information and data pertaining to an applicant's criminal record, family, and background furnished to or obtained by the commission from any source shall be considered confidential and shall be withheld in whole or in part, except that any information shall be released upon the lawful order of a court of competent jurisdiction or, with the approval of the Attorney General, to a duly authorized law enforcement agency.

Nigris' basic argument is that section 74(e) requires the Commission to seal and thus prevent public disclosure of any exhibit admitted into evidence at a public hearing which contains information pertaining to an applicant's criminal record, family or background ...


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