Deliberative-Process Privilege Protects Agency’s Unapproved Meeting Minutes

A N.J. appellate court issued an interesting opinion for governmental entities responding to public-records requests.  The question was whether a public-records act requires a governmental agency to produce its draft, unapproved meeting minutes.  The N.J. court held that draft minutes are pre-decisional and deliberative, protected by the deliberative-process privilege, and not subject to a public-records request.  Libertarians for Transparent Gov’t v. Gov’t Records Council, 180 A.3d 327 (N.J. Super. 2018).  You may read the decision here.

Deliberative-Process Privilege

The deliberative-process privilege, a sub-category of the global executive privilege, protects from disclosure documents and information reflecting a governmental agency’s deliberations prior to a final decision.  The privilege encourages agency employees to engage in open debate about government policy by precluding their pre-decision comments from public disclosure.  It therefore protects advisory opinions, recommendations, and deliberations.

To invoke the privilege, the governmental agency must show that the requested document is (1) pre-decisional, meaning the agency created it before adopting the corresponding policy or decision; and (2) deliberative, meaning that it contains opinions, recommendations, or advice.

Government Records Council

New Jersey’s Government Records Council, which, ironically, “is committed to making the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) work for the citizens of New Jersey,” and has “worked hard to make government records more easily accessible to the public,” held its monthly meeting on February 23, 2016.  The GRC took minutes and was ready to approve them at the March 2016 meeting, but the GRC cancelled that meeting for lack of a quorum. More…