The Supreme Court of New Jersey has ruled that a Rutgers law school legal aid clinic does not have to turn over documents in response to a public records request.
The Rutgers law clinic represented a group of Sussex County residents who opposed construction of an outlet mall in their New Jersey township. The developer argued the clinic of a state-affiliated school was subject to New Jersey’s open records law and then made an open records request for files related to the case, including client-attorney communications.Vice Dean of the Rutgers Newark Law School, Ronald Chen believes the Supreme Court’s ruling averted serious consequences.
“If we had been forced to disclose client sensitive materials to anyone who filed an OPRA request, we really could not, we feel, do justice to our clients or practice law,” said Chen.The court ruled that attorneys of the clinic don’t act as public officials when they’re working with private clients. Chen said the ruling applies only in New Jersey, but that university clinics around the country have been watching for the outcome of the case — and the precedent it sets.