Trenton, NJ – The New Jersey Supreme Court on Monday ruled that Attorney General Gurbir Grewal did not overstep his authority when he ordered law enforcement agencies across New Jersey to release the names of all officers who are disciplined for misconduct.
When Grewal issued two transparency directives in June of 2020, the Attorney General’s Office indicated that it wanted police and sheriff’s departments statewide to name disciplined officers going forward, NewJersey.com reported.
But the attorney general wanted the New Jersey State Police to release the identities and records of all the state troopers who have been disciplined going back 20 years, as well as going forward.
Police unions fought back and filed a lawsuit that argued Grewal did not have the authority to make such a sweeping policy change, NewJersey.com reported.
The Attorney General’s Office maintained that Grewal had the power to issue such a directive.
The state’s Supreme Court agreed with the Attorney General’s Office, in part, NewJersey.com reported.
“We find that the Attorney General had the authority to issue the Directives,” New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote in a unanimous decision for the court.
“They are designed to enhance public trust and confidence in law enforcement, to deter misconduct, to improve transparency and accountability in the disciplinary process, and to identify repeat offenders who may try to move from one sensitive position to another. In short, the Directives are consistent with legislative policies and rest on a reasonable basis,” Rabner wrote in the ruling.
However, the court’s ruling only applied to the directive to law enforcement agencies across the state, not to the state police, NewJersey.com reported.
The state Supreme Court declined to rule on the directive regarding past records of state troopers who had been subject to discipline in the past.
Court documents showed that if enforced, the directive would identify by name almost 500 New Jersey state troopers, or 11 percent of the troopers who have worked for the New Jersey State Police over the past two decades, NewJersey.com reported.
Attorneys for the police unions have fought hard against the directive and argued Grewal can’t enforce it because those state troopers were specifically promised their names would never be revealed.
New Jersey State Troopers Fraternal Association President Wayne Blanchard said the membership of his union – 1,700 troopers strong – didn’t have a problem with transparency going forward for certain types of offenses, NewJersey.com reported.
But Blanchard questioned the motive behind releasing discipline records from decades ago to the public now.
“We think it was agenda-based, and we still scratch our heads at what legitimate purpose it really serves,” the union boss explained. “But we’re certainly pleased to see the troopers in the 20-year lookback have some recourse… and we’re certainly still willing to sit down with the attorney general to negotiate that out. I just don’t see him as a willing party to be part of reasonable reform.”
Pat Colligan, the head of the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, said the Supreme Court’s ruling was disappointing, NewJersey.com reported.
“To go back 20 years and say now the rules have changed — it’s akin to going back and changing the speed limit on a ticket you got,” Colligan said.
The chief justice called the matter of the 20-year-old records a “serious issue” that demanded a trial judge’s attention, NewJersey.com reported.
Rabner said a trial judge should hear testimony on the matter and issue a ruling that could be applied to all future legal challenges.
The ruling also said that a similar process could be used by the courts to determine cases brought against local officials who were also trying to release police misconduct records to the public, NewJersey.com reported.
The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office celebrated the court’s ruling on the first directive as a “new chapter for police transparency and accountability in New Jersey.”
“By lifting the cloak of secrecy over our state’s police disciplinary process, we are not simply ensuring accountability for those who engage in misconduct,” Grewal said in a written statement. “We are also demonstrating that the vast majority of law enforcement officers work hard and play by the rules.”