June 13, 2012

Councilman Calls Records Request By University Lawyers “Outrageous”

A request for copies of more than six years of records by lawyers representing Princeton University in lawsuits related to the Dinky has angered at least one member of Borough Council. At the governing body’s meeting last week, Councilman Roger Martindell called Drinker Biddle & Reath’s request “outrageous,” and said that he, for one, did not intend to comply.

“This request is overly broad and burdensome, and it violates a first amendment right to communicate with constituents,” he said, to applause from some members of the audience. “Every single person, mayor and employee would have to spend hundreds of hours going through material going back to January 2006. It is totally outrageous.”

The law firm has asked for copies of all records of correspondence between the mayor, members of Council and Borough staff, consultants, and members of the citizen group Save the Dinky between January 2006 and the present. “Copies of any communications, including but not limited to meetings, discussions, conversations, telephone calls, faxes, electronic mail, instant messaging, memoranda, letters, notes, telecopies, telexes, conferences, etc.” are mentioned in the filing.

“They want all communications that were ever made in writing in any form whatsoever, between the mayor, and then-Council people and Borough employees and any representative of Save the Dinky, Inc. from January 2006 to now,” Mr. Martindell said this week. “This would take literally hundreds of hours of people going through their emails and files, to comply with that request. It is going to paralyze municipal government. And it is overly broad, because it doesn’t even identify who the representatives of Save the Dinky are. It names a few people, but for all I know Save the Dinky has hundreds of members. And who is representing them? Am I supposed to guess?”

Named in the request are “any member or representative of Save the Dinky, including but not limited to Kip Cherry, Anita Garoniak, Anne Waldron Neumann, Peter Marks, Rodney Fisk, Walter Neumann, Christopher Hedges, Zafina Hosein, Rachel Koehn, and or Dorothy Koehn.”

At the Council meeting, Councilman Kevin Wilkes agreed with Mr. Martindell that the request was too broad. “Do we have a list of their memberships?” he asked, regarding Save the Dinky. Councilwoman Jo Butler said that it would be impossible to meet the request for records within the seven days granted under the state law. Bob Bruschi, the Borough Administrator, said the Borough would need at least 30 days to provide the documents required.

There are two lawsuits currently pending related to the move of the Dinky station from its current location opposite McCarter Theatre to a site 460 feet south. One of the suits has to do with the zoning ordinance approved by Borough Council, which allows the project to move forward. The other has to do with the contract between Princeton University and NJ Transit related to the relocation.

Mr. Martindell said he will not comply with the request for records “absent a written memo saying we must.” He also suggested that Borough police not comply either. “Because until we get some specific guidance on the issues, we could spend hundreds of hours on this,” he said. “We shouldn’t be just jumping to disclose information that takes so much time to get. From my point of view, until we get guidance from our attorney, we shouldn’t be doing anything.”