On appeal from a Final Decision of the Governmental Records Council.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wefing, P.J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 7, 2008
Before Judges Wefing, Yannotti and LeWinn.
City of Paterson Housing Authority ("Authority") appeals from a Final Decision of the Government Records Council ("Council") finding that the custodian of the Authority's records knowingly and willfully denied claimant John A. Bart access to government records in violation of the Open Public Records Act ("OPRA"), N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1 to-13, and assessing a penalty of $1,000. After reviewing the record in light of the contentions advanced on appeal, we reverse.
John A. Bart, Esq., is an attorney employed by Northeast New Jersey Legal Services, Inc. ("Northeast"). He is the supervisor of Northeast's housing litigation unit.
On July 22, 2005, Bart wrote the following letter to the Executive Director of the Authority:
It's come to my attention that the Paterson Housing Authority is discouraging Spanish speaking applicants, Section 8 recipients, Public Housing residents, and other visitors to 60 Van Houten Street from accessing the Housing Authority's services without having an interpreter.
For example, there is a sign in your lobby written in Spanish that, translated, says, "If you do not bring someone who speaks English and can translate for you, lamentably you will not be helped". This sign is in Spanish only and has the Housing Authority's name and address at the top. At the bottom, it refers to the Leasing and Occupancy Department.
I have seen similar expressions of this policy in Paterson Housing Authority documents.
Please note that the Paterson Housing Authority's English Only Policy is in violation of your own Section 8 and Public Housing Administrative Plans. Furthermore, this policy may be in violation of Federal directives concerning the accessibility of translation services at the sites of Federal Aid recipients, such as the Paterson Housing Authority.
Please immediately take down the sign in the Housing Authority lobby at 60 Van Houten Street, cease distribution of documents enforcing this English Only Policy and direct all Paterson Housing Authority employees and the public that the English Only Policy [is] no longer in effect.
Please respond to this letter in writing. Please also accept this as a request for the Open Public Records Act and the New Jersey Right to Know Law for a copy of the Spanish language notice referred to above that is currently posted in the lobby of 60 Van Houten Street. Also, accept this as a request under the Open Public Record[s] Act and the New Jersey Right to Know Law*fn1 for a copy of all Paterson Housing Authority forms, correspondence and directives which reference the Housing Authority's requirement or preference that Spanish speakers bring an interpreter in order to be served.
Please provide me with the citation to any law or any regulation, directive, or Paterson Housing Authority Plan that authorizes this preference or requirement that ...