Irvington drops lawsuit against senior accused of searching too many public records – NBC New York
Irvington Township has dropped its lawsuit against a senior who was accused of harassing city employees by filing too many claims under the state’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA).
The I-Team was the first to report on the unusual legal complaint, in which the Irvington city government accused Elouise McDaniel, 82, of searching a ‘heavy’ number of records and writing ‘letters and frivolous complaints” to state and federal agencies. In court papers, Irvington argued that McDaniel’s requests and letters were sent “without foundation or reasonable cause, were otherwise baseless or frivolous, and were made maliciously and for the sole purpose and intent of harass, abuse and harm plaintiffs and township employees, including its mayor”
Although the complaint lists Irvington Mayor Tony Vauss as a victim of the alleged ‘harassment’, last month Vauss said he did not order the trial and was not sure who in his administration was behind. Neither Vauss nor Township Attorney Ramon Rivera responded to inquiries from the I-Team about why the lawsuit was dropped.
McDaniel, a longtime critic of Vauss, believes the lawsuit was an attempt to silence her and thwart her attempts to hold officials accountable by seeking documents and investigations into their use of public funds.
After the I-Team story was published, other outlets picked it up, and McDaniel said she began fielding a flurry of calls from supporters.
“I got calls from attorneys all over the United States,” she said.
Eventually, the New Jersey Chapter of the ACLU and CJ Griffin, an associate of Pashman Stein specializing in public records law, agreed to represent McDaniel pro bono.
“They were trying to intimidate Ms. McDaniel,” said Amol Sinha, executive director of the ACLU New Jersey, “The question I have for a town like Irvington that might use that tactic is – what are they trying to hide?”
Griffin said the complaint, which accused McDaniel of harassment, was actually retrograde.
“They accused her of being a bully, but they kind of bullied her,” Griffin said.
Although Vauss said he was unaware of the origin of the lawsuit, he expressed agreement with the complaint’s assertion that McDaniel’s recording applications and complaints to State were malicious in nature.
“Insinuating that the mayor is using public resources to stifle transparency is false,” wrote Michael DeCotiss, attorney for Vauss and the Township of Irvington. “Mrs. McDaniels [sic] brought over 75 OPRA requests placing an undue burden on the Township Records Custodian.
Now that the lawsuit has been dropped, McDaniel said she plans to continue using New Jersey’s OPRA law to keep tabs on Vauss and other Irvington executives. She expressed her gratitude to her pro bono attorneys and the I-Team for telling her story for the first time.
“Thank you for coming to my rescue because I’ve been trying for so long to get someone to listen to me,” McDaniel said. “Thank you NBC.”