In November 2020, Governor Phil Murphy signed Daniel’s Law, which amended the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and other statutes to restrict personal information for certain persons in public service.
It is a bad law that was never truly thought out, will have limited utility, is very difficult to execute, protects a tiny minority that has no genuine reason to fear, obliterates valuable resources and crushes the public’s right to know without gaining any advantage to merit these sacrifices.
Specifically, the law is designed to prevent public exposure of personal information about active and retired judges, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and their immediate family members.
But the extremely limited risk to such individuals from including their addresses in any database is far less than the cost to society of eliminating resources that show the location, assessed value, property tax bill, and ownership of all the real estate in New Jersey.
The New Jersey Association of County Tax Boards (NJACTB) is a 501C(3) charitable organization that has provided members and the public with tools to address tax and assessment issues. Due to the enactment of Daniel’s Law, effective January 1, 2023, the NJACTB website no longer provides access to the Tax List (MODIV) and Property Sales (SR1A) data.
The website once made it easy to locate assessed property values as reported by local assessors and tax bills, as well as owner information, which was useful to journalists, the public, and real estate professionals.
Property taxes can have a real impact on your financial well-being and based on where you own property, the tax rate can fluctuate wildly. Without the tools once provided by NJACTB, it will be more difficult to ferret out unfairness and inequity.
New Jersey property taxes are near the top of all states, with the highest property tax bills in the nation so this is not a minor problem.
Officials, especially those at the municipal level, will need some additional help and guidance in terms of how to handle everything (from) advertising tax sales to handling other routine business whether it involves a 200-foot list associated with a zoning board or planning board applications or advertising other records normally released in the name of transparency,” said Bridgeton Mayor Albert B. Kelly, who questioned the mechanics regarding this law’s implementation.
“Few question the need to protect our judicial officers, but doing so while also balancing transparency and the public’s right to know will not be accomplished easily,’ said Kelly, who described compliance with the new requirement, “a monumental task for every department that needs to figure out who is covered and what needs to be redacted.”
Active and retired federal and state court judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement members may request redaction of certain personal information from the public-facing websites operated by the state but the form used to sign up says, “Users have no personal expectation of privacy in any of the operations performed on this system.”
Before the law even became operational, state Senator Joseph Cryan used it to threaten legal action against a newspaper publisher that ran a story about his purchase of real estate in Pennsylvania while he was seeking re-election. The theory was that since Cryan was a former elected Sheriff, he is subject to the law’s protection—but he made this claim months before the statute took effect and his purpose was to avoid embarrassment for owning a lavish lakeside villa while representing one of the poorest districts in New Jersey.
Daniel’s Law was enacted in response to the tragic death of Daniel Anderl, the son of United States District Court Judge Esther Salas and Mark Anderl, but that horrific event was completely abnormal.
Nobody can dispute that this was a tragedy but destroying our right to know about many things that are rightfully public information is a threat to democracy and there is virtually no evidence to suggest that judges or law enforcement officials are at significant risk.
According to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, the rate of violent victimization in 2021 was 20 percent of what it was in 1993. Not only has the number of such crimes fallen significantly, but 46 percent of the victims are acquaintances, family relatives, or intimate partners of the offenders so it is not like mobs of deranged attackers are looking up judge’s home addresses to exact revenge.
Only six United States federal judges have been killed in office. including one murdered in 1867, and another who was outside a Safeway supermarket in Casas Adobes, Arizona, on January 8, 2011 when a gunman opened fire at the “Congress on Your Corner” event held by Democratic U.S. House Representative Gabby Giffords.
United States District Court Judge Sandra J. Feuerstein died on April 9, 2021, after being struck by a car in a hit and run incident in Boca Raton, Florida. The driver, Nastasia Snape, claimed to be Harry Potter and police found drug paraphernalia in her vehicle.
The rarity of assaults or assassination attempts on judges makes the requirements of Daniel’s Law an entirely unreasonable burden. Instead of protecting a tiny number of people, who are less likely than most citizens to actually face a threat, it destroys our right to knowledge in violation of the First Amendment.
On July 19, at about 5 p.m., a gunman, later identified as 72-year-old men’s-rights attorney Roy Den Hollander, came to her house dressed in a FedEx uniform and opened fire, killing her only child, 20-year-old Daniel Anderl, and critically injuring her husband, Mark Anderl.
There is no evidence about how the deranged killer obtained the Judge’s address before he showed up at the family home in North Brunswick, New Jersey, where the fatal shooting took place.
On July 19, 2020, during the shooting at his township home that killed his son but did not injure his wife, Mark Anderl was shot three times: in the right chest, the left abdomen, and once in the right forearm.
Anderl is an attorney and partner at Anderl & Oakley, a criminal defense firm that advertises the location of his offices in Perth Amboy and Princeton. He suffered life-threatening injuries that required at least thirteen operations and may still need quite some time in recovery, but he cannot hide if he intends to stay in business.
The gunman, Roy Den Hollander, was a self-proclaimed anti-feminist and men’s rights attorney, who graduated from the George Washington University Law School in 1985 before earning an MBA from the Columbia Business School in 1997.
The lawyer gained notoriety for his unsuccessful attempts at arguing lawsuits challenging events and incidents that in his view violated human rights, often in unsuccessful sex discrimination suits on behalf of men.
Den Hollander once challenged the constitutionality of “ladies’ night” promotions at bars and nightclubs because he claimed that they undermined human rights by charging men hundreds of dollars for bottle service.
Den Hollander, who claimed he was “dying from cancer” was found dead on July 20, 2020, outside a rental car from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Den Hollander is also suspected in the July 2020 murder of lawyer Marc Angelucci in California, a little over a week before the attack on the Judge’s family in New Jersey.
In 2015, he represented the plaintiffs of a gender-equity lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey challenging the constitutionality of the military’s male-only draft. The lawsuit went before Judge Salas, who ruled against some of Den Hollander’s arguments but allowed the case to proceed in court. He reportedly believed Salas was deliberately stalling the lawsuit for political reasons.
In a trove of documents published online, Den Hollander directed misogynistic and racist insults at Judge Salas and expressed support for then-President Donald Trump.
Den Hollander, who described himself as a Trump volunteer in his writings, called the Hispanic female judge an “affirmative action” case that affiliated with those who wanted “to convince America that whites, especially white males, were barbarians, and all those of a darker skin complexion were victims.”
Den Hollander was maladjusted and angry, plus he had easy access to firearms because Americans refuse to regulate guns despite the massive amount of bloodshed they cause.
We don’t know how he found out where Judge Salas lived but requiring the extraction or redaction of all the information about all of the people covered by this ill-conceived law won’t stop someone from following a judge home from the courthouse.
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