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ZAZZALI: LET ‘EM GO TO THE VIDEOTAPE

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New Jersey’s citizens have the right to videotape public meetings, the state Supreme Court has ruled in a unanimous opinion written by Rumson resident and Chief Justice James Zazzali.

The Star-Ledger has news of the ruling, which came this morning in the case of a South Jersey man twice arrested for videotaping council meetings in his hometown of Pine Hill.

From the story:

The state Supreme Court today ruled that New Jerseyans have a common-law right to videotape public meetings, although governmental agencies can impose “reasonable guidelines” to make sure the recording does not disrupt their official business.

Finding a video camera no different than the pen and parchment used by engaged citizens hundreds of years ago, the court ruled in favor of a gadfly from Camden County who was arrested after he tried to videotape two Pine Hill borough council meetings in 2000.

The justices found the Pine Hill mayor was “arbitrary and unreasonable” in ordering the police chief to arrest Robert Wayne Tarus — a longtime critic of the mayor and council — because the borough had never adopted formal guidelines for videotaping public meetings.

“Arbitrary rules that curb the openness of a public meetings are barricades against effective democracy,” Chief Justice James Zazzali wrote for the unanimous court. “Our conclusion is supported by an interwoven tapestry of jurisprudence and policy that demonstrates both the value of open government and the right to document governmental proceedings.”

Lawyers for Tarus had argued that restricting the right to videotape is akin to denying someone the right to freely speak, listen or gather information, which are all protected by the New Jersey Constitution.

But the Supreme Court declined to answer the constitutional issue after finding citizens have the right to videotape public meetings under English common-law traditions dating back to the 18th Century.

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