Close to settling suit over Hoboken records

Close to settling suit over Hoboken records

Tuesday, March 11, 2008 Jersey Journal

Councilwoman Beth Mason may be close to settling one of her lawsuits concerning transparency in government - this time with the Hoboken Municipal Hospital Authority.

"The lawyers have worked out the basis for an agreement," said Ira Karasick, an attorney for HMHA.

Both sides stress the agreement has not been finalized and must be approved by HMHA's board of directors - by no means a sure thing. The board next meets March 26.

"The board wants to resolve the litigation," said George Crimmins, HMHA's executive director. "It's a matter of what that resolution is."

Mason sued HMHA in December 2006, alleging the defendants did not provide adequate notice of two meetings as required under the Open Public Meetings Act. Notices were given only in The Jersey Journal, while the law requires notices be posted in two local publications.

In the lawsuit, Mason also complained HMHA didn't hand over documents she requested under the Open Public Records Act within the required seven days. The OPRA requests have not been part of the settlement talks.

Both sides declined to outline the terms of the agreement before it is ratified by the board, but Karasick said it would include HMHA admitting it had violated the law, something he said HMHA already did months ago in a resolution.

"We will acknowledge what mistakes were made and agree that everything should be done transparently and openly," he said. "And we will recognize that this lawsuit helped further transparency."

Karasick emphasized that HMHA's violations stemmed from mistakes, not a desire to keep information from the public.

"Nothing was hidden," he said. "And since then we've really made an effort to be in compliance."

Mason said she's pleased a settlement may come soon.

"We're hoping that the board ratifies the agreement and we can move forward," she said. "I think the board (now) realizes that people want to have this information in a timely way."

The potential settlement comes on the heels of a settlement between Mason and the Board of Education last month over a 2005 lawsuit. As part of that settlement, the board admitted to Open Public Records Act and Open Public Meetings Act violations, according to Mason.

In addition to the above two suits, Mason has sued the City of Hoboken six times under OPRA since 2004. She has won two cases and has three appeals pending, one of which was heard by the New Jersey Supreme Court last month.

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