N.J. town to drop lawsuit against woman, 82, who it claimed filed ‘voluminous’ public records requests

Published: Mar. 31, 2022

The past week has been a whirlwind for Elouise McDaniel, an 82-year-old Irvington resident sued by the township for various reasons, including filing over 75 requests to the township for information within three years via New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act.

On Thursday evening, she learned the township’s intentions to drop the lawsuit — just a day after McDaniel had secured an attorney.

“We look forward to Irvington dismissing this case, but it shouldn’t have taken national press coverage and the ACLU stepping in for them to back down,” McDaniel’s attorney, CJ Griffin, who took the case on pro-bono Wednesday, said in a statement sent to NJ Advance Media. “This law(suit) should never have been filed in the first place — it was clearly an attempt to keep Ms. McDaniel from being civically engaged and ‘checking under the hood’ of her local government to make sure everything was operating correctly.

“Instead of treating civic engagement as a nuisance, towns should welcome the public’s desire to participate in government and improve their communities.”

McDaniel declined to comment, referring questions to her attorney. In addition to Griffin’s help free of charge, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey said Wednesday it was also providing assistance in the case.

Responding to the “voluminous OPRA requests has been unduly burdensome, time consuming and expensive,” the township said in the Sept. 17 civil suit, first reported by NBC.

The township also accused McDaniel of filing “frivolous” complaints about Irvington Mayor Tony Vauss’ administration with the Office of the Attorney General and other state agencies. The complaints were submitted “with the sole purpose and intent to harass, abuse and harm plaintiffs and employees of the township, including its mayor,” according to the suit.

McDaniel, who was accused of several counts including defamation, harassment and malicious abuse of process, said Monday that she had a “legal right” to know the information she has requested from the town. Her history of filing OPRA requests and the lawsuit gained national attention, with many online users praising McDaniel’s tenacity.

“While the township maintains that the litigation is meritorious and not filed for malicious reasons, the township shall take steps to withdraw the litigation,” according to a statement provided by the mayor’s office on Thursday. “The primary reason is to avoid the appearance that the township is discriminating or retaliating against any resident.”

Mayor Vauss did not immediately respond to questions seeking clarity on who exactly filed the lawsuit and why the township had decided to withdraw it. Both Vauss and Harold Wiener, municipal clerk in Irvington whom — along with the township — are listed as a plaintiffs in the suit, told NBC they did not file or request the lawsuit. McDaniel said she also did not know who filed it.

Thursday’s statement said Vauss, Wiener, the township’s attorney and outside counsel met earlier in the day and agreed to dismiss the litigation.

“(To) date, there have been no determinations from the Government Records Council that resulted in affirmative relief for Ms. McDaniel,” township officials said. “The GRC has determined that the Custodian of Records did not knowingly or willfully deny any requests for information. In addition, there are numerous other factual allegations in the litigation that do not pertain to OPRA requests; such as frivolous letters and defamatory statements about the township and its employees.”

The mayor’s office also said the township wanted to “avoid unnecessary expenses and legal fees associated with continuation of this matter.”

Vauss’ office noted that despite the withdrawal, the claims in the suit remain “valid.” It also said the township “will continue to provide” responses to OPRA requests “to the best of its ability.”

McDaniel, the president of the Irvington Block Association Coalition, previously said she has long feuded with Irvington township officials and Vauss, who was elected as mayor in May 2014. McDaniel said it culminated with her attempted run against Vauss for mayor in 2018.

“I think that in some ways (this suit) is political … this has been going on for a long time and I’m just tired at this point. I’m tired, this is ridiculous. I want to live out my final years … in peace,” McDaniel said earlier this week.

Both Griffin and McDaniel said that a dangerous precedent could be set were townships be allowed to sue residents for seeking public records.

OPRA requests are intended in part to expand residents’ access to government records, the state’s Government Records Council says on its website. People are not restricted on the number of OPRA requests they can submit to an agency.

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-04-01 03:31:23 -0700