Cecinini Law Group Logo

What is Daniel’s Law and Why Has It Created So Much Confusion for Public Entities?

In September of 2020 Daniel Anderl, the son of a US Judge in New Jersey was tragically killed by someone who found his mother’s home address online. Shortly after the legislature passed a law that allows judges, police officers and other judicial officials to hide their addresses from public records. This seems like a good idea in theory, but in practice it was not well thought out nor well implemented especially in the beginning. For example, literally dozens of existing laws require parties as well as public entities themselves to rely on public information regarding property ownership. And if these records are not available, Daniel’s law did not expressly allow exceptions from the other laws which require the non-publicly available records. Since it first came out, Daniel’s Law has been amended several times to try and address some of these concerns. Importantly, some public agencies are still misapplying Daniel’s law and rather than following its requirement to redact only the information of certain parties who specifically request and qualify for the redaction, these agencies simply don’t provide any information to the public despite the Open Public Records Act or OPRA (and other laws) requiring them to. So what does Daniel’s law actually say?

Daniel’s law modified NJSA 47:1A-1 et seq (OPRA) to require public records custodians to redact ” the home address, whether a primary or secondary residence, of any active, formerly active, or retired judicial officer, prosecutor, or law enforcement officer, or… any immediate family member thereof…” (NJSA 47:1A-5)

NJSA 47:1B-2 requires that for any person who is a judicial officer, prosecutor or law enforcement officer to have their home address redacted, they must request same to the NJ “Office of Information Privacy” for approval, and upon 30 days of said approval, only then can a public agency redact their home address from public records. As part of the process, the requestor must

” affirm in writing that the person understands that certain rights, duties, and obligations are affected as a result of the request, including:
(1) the receipt of certain notices from non-governmental entities as would otherwise be required pursuant to the “Municipal Land Use Law,” P.L.1975, c. 291 (C.40:55D-1 et seq.);
(2) the signing of petitions related to the nomination or election of a candidate to public office or related to any public question;
(3) the eligibility or requirements related to seeking or accepting the nomination for election or election to public office, or the appointment to any public position;
(4) the sale or purchase of a home or other property, recordation of a judgment, lien or other encumbrance on real or other property, and any relief granted based thereon;
(5) the ability to be notified of any class action suit or settlement; and
(6) any other legal, promotional, or official notice which would otherwise be provided to the person but for the redaction or nondisclosure of such person’s home address pursuant to subsection a. of this section.”

The word “affected” is not defined however. For example, does this person expressly waive their right in these cases and others where the law requires a person’s legal address for service?

Finally NJSA 47:1B-3 lays out a number of exceptions to the redaction requirement even if the judicial officer, prosecutor or law enforcement officer does apply to have his or her records redacted. For example title companies and parties making an offer or accepting an offer for real property must be provided the otherwise redactable records. After all, how else could you purchase a property if you didn’t know who owns it?

Clearly, Daniel’s Law is not a blanket restriction on the release of all public records. Its application  is limited to Judicial Officers, prosecutors and law enforcement officers (and their immediate families) who actually apply for and qualify for its exceptions. Hopefully over time the related laws that it effects will be amended to take its existence into account, and in the meantime governmental agencies will be educated on the limitations of its application and their continuing obligations to honor OPRA requests and otherwise provide prompt access to governmental records.

2023-08-10T16:29:04+00:00
Go to Top