Presented by the Public Entity & Civil Rights Litigation Practice Group

Appellate Division Provides Guidance for Redaction of Attorney Invoices When an OPRA Request Is Received

In Mears v. Borough of Lawnside, (A-2956-19), the New Jersey Appellate Division decided a case involving an order to show cause under the Open Public Meetings Act (OPRA) seeking “all the vouchers and/or invoices” submitted by the attorney appointed by a certain resolution for a six-month period. The acting Borough clerk of the Borough of Lawnside produced the records, but heavily redacted the invoices submitted by the law firm to the Borough. The trial court dismissed the order to show cause, finding that the clerk properly redacted the invoices pursuant to the attorney-client privilege.

The Appellate Division reversed, finding that the redaction of every word of every line item of the description of services rendered as to all invoices was not protected by the attorney-client privilege. A vast majority of the descriptions of services were generic, single-line entries that did not contain any confidential information, trial strategy or work production. For example, the Appellate Division held that the following entries were not protected: “Receive and Review Correspondence from Court Clerk”; “Participate in phone conference with court”; “Draft letter brief in advance of oral argument”; “Attend zoning board [meeting]”; “Attend oral argument at court.” Moreover, the Appellate Division held that redactions of expenses, such as filing fees, mailing fees and monthly retainer, were also not protected by any privilege. Finally, the court held that the plaintiff was in fact a prevailing party and entitled to reasonable attorney’s fees pursuant to the OPRA statute.

As a result of this decision, when redacting attorney invoices, the public entity should be wary of redacting any generic descriptions made by an attorney. However, if the attorney sets forth in the description specific attorney-client information and/or trial strategy, such information may still be potentially redacted. The exact wording of each description needs to be analyzed. A blanket redaction is not permitted.

Please do not hesitate to contact the author with any questions concerning this case or other issues under the OPRA.

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