Proposed legislation that would make whistleblower settlement agreements involving public entities available to the public has been approved unanimously by the New Jersey Assembly on March 23, 2017.
The New Jersey Assembly Bill (A-4243) would bar public entities and public employees from entering into confidential settlements of whistleblower claims asserted under the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act, except where the settlement involves a matter concerning national security.
A public entity is defined as the state and any county, municipality, district, public authority, public agency, and any other political subdivision or public body in the state.
The bill provides that such settlements constitute public records under the open public records laws. While such information is often available under existing laws, such as the Open Public Records Act (N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1 et seq.), the proposed legislation requires that all settlement agreements be prominently displayed on the Attorney General’s website, in a searchable format, and include:
- the date the agreement was signed;
- the names of the parties;
- a description of the claims;
- the total amount each party is obligated to pay; and
- the total amount of compensation for outside legal counsel.
Supporters of the bill maintain that it will prevent public entities from keeping information involving the expenditure of public funds on such litigation confidential.