Update: Climbing on board with Oros Bais Yaakov, Agudath Israel has just filed a similar motion in federal court to fine and restrain Jackson Township for deleting emails related to the case.
As a result of Jackson Township playing games with records, a plaintiff in a current lawsuit against Jackson, Oros Bais Yaakov, has filed for a court order to fine the township for destroying evidence and prevent them from doing so further.
The motion details how the township clerk, after being deposed in the case, denied multiple lawsuit-related OPRA requests while claiming that the records were no longer available. For example:
On March 24, 2019, [requestor] sent another OPRA request to the Township requesting “all emails between Mike Reina and Helene Schlegel in Oct 2014 with regard to the Oros Bais Yaakov lawsuit or complaint.”
On March 25, 2019, the Township advised [requestor] that the “records requested have been destroyed under general correspondence as per approval from the NJDARM.” The response referenced the “Authorization from Records Disposal approved on 3/6/19.”
Also included are examples of the clerks discussing the destruction of records:
In what appears to be a continuing course of deliberate action to destroy records, Ms. Kisty also emailed Township employee, Danielle Sinowitz, “Reminder that 2014 and maybe 2015 is destroyed…” with respect to an OPRA request seeking Eruv information.
Oros notes, that public OPRA responses turned up emails they had never seen, while these emails should have been returned during discovery already.
A brief synopsis of the Oros Bais Yaakov episode
The school, planned for a 7.5-acre lot which was rejected in 2014 by the Jackson zoning board amidst a large public protest and discriminatory comments from board members. (Some of the comments that zoning board members have admitted making are “ask him what to do about the scourge of the cockroaches from the east”, “Jackson is not prepared for the tsunami of orthodoxy that is mounting at the border.”, “They are on target for a repeat of the 1930s” and “They DO have more money than you or me or all of us put together and they have a long term plan and an abundance of patience.”)
Oros sued in 2015, claiming that the board’s decision was arbitrary and violated RLUIPA. The judge dismissed the first count, and the RLUIPA allegations went into discovery. During this phase, two zoning board members did not comply with court subpoenas, one going so far as to delete his Facebook account rather than reveal its contents.
More recently, Jackson and Oros had been in settlement talks, which fell apart in 2019 when Jackson ignored a settlement that both sides had already agreed to and hired attorney Marci Hamilton to fight instead.