It’s particularly difficult for those adversely affected by government or corporate activities to organize to be heard. We work to persuade public authorities and private corporations to address the impact their actions have on communities and individuals.
In recent years, we have led the fight to halt the racially discriminatory practices of the New Jersey State Police. We’ve proposed changes in personnel practices that could help protect minority motorists from racial profiling. We’re also working to protect officers from internal discrimination and from retaliation when they speak out about discriminatory practices. In all our activities in this area, we aim to protect those who find themselves on the wrong side of power but the right side of the argument.
Our primary activities are:
Defend organizations and individuals subjected to SLAPP lawsuits (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation)
A SLAPP lawsuit is one that seeks to intimidate those who exercise legitimate expression of their interests and make demands to participate in public processes.
Advocate for transparency and accountability in public institutions
We work to ensure that institutions and facilities that receive public funding carry out their missions responsibly, with appropriate governance and accountability to the government and to their constituents.
Represent those who stand for ‘right’ in the face of ‘might’
We represent those whose rights are compromised or denied by the actions of government agencies, or by groups with special legal status (ie, homeowner associations).
Support communities seeking to enact “pay-to-play” ordinances to ensure that big campaign contributors don’t enjoy too much influence once the candidate they supported enters office, especially developers seeking municipal contracts.
Negotiate with developers, community groups, and public authorities to secure equitable treatment of those most affected by development
Successfully defended activists in SLAPP lawsuit
After years of litigation, the case of Stevens Institute of Technology v. Fund for a Better Waterfront (FFWB) et al. formally concluded with a favorable settlement. NJ Appleseed, with the Environmental Law Clinic at Columbia Law School, had come to the defense of several community activists from FFBW who were sued in a SLAPP lawsuit (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) in retaliation for speaking out about the environmental impact of the university’s blasting practices at a construction site. The defamation claim and other claims were originally thrown out in 2004. After subsequent appeals, the case finally settled in April 2008. FFBW will not be required to pay any damages, and both parties agreed to work together cooperatively in the future. As for legal significance, NJ Appleseed won several victories along the way in this case that will benefit the people of New Jersey. First, the case established that statements of public concern are constitutionally protected and not considered defamatory when those statements rely on information debated within the scientific community. Second, the courts confirmed that corporations cannot make claims based on the assertion that they are victims of ‘invasion of privacy,’ or that they are being portrayed in a ‘false light.’ Third, NJ Appleseed defeated ‘prima facie tort’ as a catch-all cause of action that can be used to SLAPP activists and community groups trying to exercise their legitimate rights of expression. Prima facie tort, not found in all states, is allegedly designed to discourage those who would use lawful acts to intentionally inflict harm and cause special damages, though its merits are debatable. With this victory, NJ whistle-blowers can rest assured that this strategy can’t be used against them.
Helped Hoboken activists challenge city government
When Hoboken’s city government failed to enforce a “Pay-to-Play” ordinance voters overwhelmingly approved in 2004, a group of activists calling themselves People for Open Government (POG) felt it should have the right to sue to compel enforcement. The court disagreed, dismissing POG’s suit on the grounds that they didn’t have standing to enforce the ordinance they worked so hard to enact. NJ Appleseed represented POG on appeal before the appellate division, arguing that POG should have standing to bring a suit against the city. The court agreed. This decision, filed 1/9/08, has importance throughout the state, because municipalities that have pay-to-play ordinances now understand that their citizens can compel them to enforce it.
Homeowners Association Conference Held May 21, 2007
Governed by elected boards, homeowner associations exercise considerable authority over their members – some say too much. Both the NJ Supreme Court and the State Legislature are facing issues concerning the rights of members and limitations on the power of the boards. NJ Appleseed coordinated and co-sponsored the conference, along with Rutgers Schools of Law in Newark and Camden, and Seton Hall Law School. Over 300 participants on both sides of the issue gathered from across the state to discuss solutions. Other co-sponsoring organizations were: ACLU of NJ, AARP-NJ, League of Women Voters of NJ, and Common-Interest Homeowners Coalition (C-IHC). The full transcript is available on the Downloads page of this website.
Settlement in New Jersey State Troopers’ Bias Suit
NJA successfully challenged New Jersey State Police regulations (the “gag order”) prohibiting troopers to speak out about matters of public concern, including the relationship between racial profiling and discriminatory employment practices; compelled changes to the educational assignment process, and specialist and promotion systems; and ultimately received a $4M settlement for thirteen troopers who had experienced discrimination and retaliation for their attempts to reform the organization.
Help Stop Out-of-Control Animal Shelter Ignored by Regulators (2008)
NJ Appleseed represents Hudson Animal Advocates, a community activist group outraged by the failure of state and local government to keep the Hudson County District SPCA in line. The Jersey City shelter has been troubled for more than 20 years, but government agencies did little about it, even though a large part of HCSPCA’s operating money comes from government funds. The shelter is plagued by a string of failed health inspections, financial reporting problems and a manager on trial for animal cruelty. NJ Appleseed and Hudson Animal Advocates are taking action to prevent any future harm that may be caused by this quasi-governmental entity, and recover a precious community asset.
Fight for Democracy in Radburn Community (2007-8)
NJ Appleseed is helping Radburn residents in the borough of Fair Lawn with their lawsuit against their homeowners association to secure democracy within the community. The suit argues that the association’s restrictions on membership, nomination of new trustees, public meetings and financial disclosure violate state statutory and constitutional law. The Court ruled in our favor on the financial disclosure concerns, and dismissed all of the counter claims filed against one of our clients in retaliation for bringing the suit. We will appeal the Court’s ruling on our suit, and urge the Court to reconsider making this a matter for the State legislature rather than the judiciary.
Represent Union City Community Watchdog (2007-8)
Larry Price is a retired Navy Reservist and vigilant private citizen. He has challenged a number of real estate development projects that Union City’s Planning and Zoning Boards have approved, but that he believed violated the city’s master plan. Although he’s lost many of his lawsuits, a few courts have agreed with him and stopped several projects. One developer, Maximus Real Estate Fund, initiated a lawsuit against him. It’s NJ Appleseed’s position that this is a frivolous lawsuit designed to interfere with Mr. Price’s legitimate participation in government affairs – a lawsuit known as a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation). NJ Appleseed is representing Mr. Price and is fighting to have the suit dismissed.
Empower Citizens in Jersey City (2007)
Civic JC is a group of “good government” activists in Jersey City. They are seeking to increase government accountability by enacting a series of local “Pay-to-Play” ordinances limiting campaign contributions to elected officials from those who hold contracts with the City, using a process known as “Initiative and Referendum” (I&R). The process of I&R empowers citizens to get ordinances on the ballot and enacted into law by the voters. In this case, Civic JC must utilize I&R because the Jersey City council recently voted down similar pay-to-play reforms.
Gun Control in Jersey City (2006)
NJ Appleseed and the Center for Social Justice at Seton Hall Law School are acting as attorneys for ACORN, NJ, which is supporting Jersey City in its fight to uphold a gun-control ordinance that is being challenged by Jersey City gun dealers.
Civil Rights Concerns in the NJ State Police (2006)
Renee Steinhagen and William Buckman, Esq. testified at a public hearing before the Advisory Committee on Police Standards, renewing their calls for radical change and more oversight. Mr. Buckman also serves on NJ Appleseed’s Board of Directors.