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Legal Q & A

Matthew Weng
Matthew Weng
League Staff Attorney

Videotaping Meetings and Indemnity
for Public Employees

Q Recently, a rather nasty person videotaped the township meeting. They hid their camera under papers and other items they were holding and did not inform the committee that the meeting was being taped. One of the committee members observed the camcorder and questioned the resident. She refused to stop taping. The next day the meeting appeared on her website. Can the Township Committee require people who want to tape the meeting to inform the Committee that they are going to do so? Not only was this an issue for the council, it was also rather annoying to residents who found out after the fact that they were taped.

A In Tarus v. Pine Hill, the New Jersey Supreme Court found that the fact that being videotaped annoys residents is not enough to prevent such taping.
The Supreme Court stated “[s]o too, we are not persuaded by fears that the use of video cameras in non-judicial settings will generate intimidation and harassment. We agree with Belcher…where the court reasoned that “[i]f an individual is willing to stand up and talk in the sometimes volatile setting of a thronged public meeting, at which members of the press are customarily present, that person has little to fear (and much to gain) from the presence of a tape recorder…Trepidation over the effect of video cameras in public meetings is overstated. The prevalence of video cameras in society and the open nature of public meetings militate against such hyperbolic concerns. Although some citizens may be fearful of video cameras, we find that consideration insufficient to deny the right to videotape.”

The right is, however, subject to restrictions.

In the same case, the Court stated, “[c]itizens are not permitted to disrupt meetings with their recording equipment. Accordingly, public bodies may impose reasonable guidelines to ensure that the recording of meetings does not disrupt the business of the body or other citizens’ right of access.” They went on to say that, “[r]easonable restrictions may also include those designed ‘to preserve the orderly conduct of a meeting by controlling noise levels [and] spatial requirements ... [,] to safeguard public facilities against damage ... to the meeting hall’s electrical system, or ... to require fair payment by the wielder of the device for electricity used.’”

This case allows a town to establish general guidelines for taping. This is a new area of law, and the “reasonable restrictions” are still developing. It remains unclear whether or not a town may require notification before allowing a person to tape a meeting. Both elected officials and residents, in the mean time, should be on notice that at any time at any public meeting, they may be videotaped and that such taping may be posted for anyone to see.



Q Do we need to indemnify our local employees? How far would we have to go if we did? I believe that there are specific employees that must be indemnified. Is that true? If so, do we need to indemnify them for the total amount of any judgment against them?

A Insofar as general employees of municipalities are concerned, it is up to the governing body to determine if they will indemnify at all, to what extent, and when. N.J.S.A. 59:10-4, our state Tort Claims Act, requires the state to indemnify its workers, but gives towns the choice. It is also interesting to note, however, that earlier in the Tort Claims Act, at N.J.S.A. 59:10-1, it says: “Nothing in this section requires the State to pay for punitive or exemplary damages or damages resulting from the commission of a crime.” However, the Attorney General may choose to pay those damages if, in his or her opinion, the damages did not result from fraud, malice, or willful conduct.

It is a little different with three specific groups noted in the statutes: clerks, police officers, and firefighters.

In those three statutes, however, the town is only required to provide the “necessary means for the defense.” These statutes do not explicitly require that towns hold these positions harmless for any judgment that may arise out of a lawsuit. Usually, however, there is some provision to do so, either in the ordinance, through a liability insurance policy, or as required in a collective bargaining agreement.

This column is for informational purposes only, and is not intended as legal advice.

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