Reporter Loses Appeal for Records on Chris Christie

     (CN) – New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s spending on the campaign trail will remain secret after an appeals court rejected a journalist’s open-records request as overbroad.
     Affirming dismissal of the case in Mercer County, a three-judge panel found Thursday that Mark Lagerkvist’s request would have required research to provide information, not records as required in the state’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA).
     Lagerkvist made the request on Jan. 15, 2014, seeking “copies of all available documentation for out-of-state travel from 2012 to present by [Governor] Chris Christie and/or members of his senior staff to attend or participate in third-party funded events,” according to the opinion.
     The New Jersey Watchdog reporter later specified that such information should include event programs and any communication about the events.
     Records custodian Javier Diaz responded initially that the request was “unclear” as to which specific records Lagerkvist wanted to see.
     Lagerkvist countered that he sought records from a specific time period, concerning staff whose roles are publicly available and that the treasury must keep records by law
     When Diaz did not respond to this challenge, Lagerkvist filed suit on April 11, 2014.
     A judge ruled three months later that Lagerkvist’s request “greatly exceeded” the regular duties of a records custodian.
     Affirming Thursday, the appellate panel said that the request “imposed on the custodian the obligation to do significantly more than merely isolate and copy identified records.”
     The custodian’s use of the word “unclear” in place of “overbroad” was an acceptable reason for denial, according to the ruling.
     Writing for a three-judge panel, Judge Carmen Alvarez said the word choice was a matter of semantics that had no bearing on the case.
     “A proper request would ask for specific documents regarding a third-party funded event occurring on a specific date, naming those who participated – such an inquiry would fall within OPRA’s scope,” Alvarez wrote.
     “The custodian in this case would have had to make a preliminary determination as to which travel records correlated to the governor and to his senior officials, past and present, over a span of years,” she continued. “The custodian would then have had to attempt to single out those which were third-party funded events. Next, he would have had to collect all documents corresponding to those events and search to ensure he had accumulated everything, including both paper and electronic correspondence.
     “OPRA does not convert a custodian into a researcher, and that would have been the effect of Lagerkvist’s request,” the ruling concludes.
     Lagerkvist’s attorney Donald Doherty has not returned a voicemail requesting comment.
     The state was represented by Deputy Attorney General Todd Wigder, who also did not immediately return a voicemail.
     Lagerkvist fared better this spring with a separate records request, after a judge found that Christie’s public remarks keep him from claiming privacy to shield how much the state pays on his security detail.