- Associated Press - Thursday, December 17, 2015

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - A New Jersey appeals court ruled in favor of Gov. Chris Christie’s office Thursday in a dispute over a reporter’s request for the governor’s out-of-state travel expense records.

The three-judge panel held reporter Mark Lagerkvist’s request exceeded the limits of New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act.

Last year, Lagerkvist requested records of Christie’s travel to third-party-funded events, including who paid for his travel.

The records custodian said it was not specific enough and denied the request. A lower court sided with the government, and the appeals court concurred Thursday.

“Lagerkvist’s request sought travel records and related documents, such as emails and correspondence, from ‘2012 to present’ for an unknown number of persons for an unknown number of events,” the court wrote. “A proper request would ask for specific documents regarding a third-party funded event occurring on a specific date, naming those who participated -such an inquiry would fall within OPRA’s scope.”

Lagerkvist also contended on appeal that the custodian had an obligation to give more specific reasons for the denial so that the request could be modified.

The appeals court reasoned that the custodian would have had to conduct extensive research, which is not required under open records laws.

“OPRA does not convert a custodian into a researcher, and that would have been the effect of Lagerkvist’s request,” the court wrote.

In an email, Lagerkvist’s attorney called the ruling “an error” and said it would hurt future public records requests.

“New Jersey law should strive to compel cooperation rather than an adversarial posture between the requester and the government,” Donald Doherty Jr. said. “This decision lays the groundwork for the government to have it both ways: ‘You’re on your own’ and ‘We did not understand.’ The abuse will be rampant.”

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