A bill passed by the Assembly on Thursday would put a 90-day embargo on police departments releasing automobile accident reports, except to the parties or their representatives.

Reports would generally be accessible within 24 hours for people directly involved in an accident, as well as law enforcement officers, insurance claim representatives, passengers, affected pedestrians and lawyers with specific authorization from an affected party.

All others, including lawyers looking for potential clients and members of the media, would have to wait 90 days.

The bill, A-801, passed the Assembly in a 73-4 vote and now heads to the full Senate, where a similar version, S-761, already has passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee.

It has the strong support of the Attorney General’s Office, which is largely responsible for crafting the present versions.

“It recognizes people’s right to be left alone,” said Assistant Attorney General B. Stephan Finkel told the Senate committee in June. “It lets them go out and get their own lawyer.”

Acting Insurance Fraud Prosecutor Ronald Chillemi said the legislation was necessary to stop what he and Finkel consider to be unscrupulous lawyers and health-care providers from abusing the system and bombarding victims with solicitation letters.

The bill faces opposition from the New Jersey Press Association, which says members of the media need immediate access to accident reports to perform their jobs efficiently.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, said in June that amendments would be fashioned to make the bill more palatable to the media, but so far the changes have not been forthcoming.

Citizens for Plaintiffs’ Rights, a coalition of small firms and solos, also opposes the bill. Lobbyist David Pascrell, of the Trenton office of the Gibbons law firm, told the Senate committee that the bill would pit larger plaintiff firms, which are able to use other means to solicit clients, against solos and small firms that do not have large advertising budgets. The latter firms, he said, should have the right to access accident victims and let them know what their rights are.

The New Jersey State Bar Association supports the bill. “We have long been concerned about the practice of attorneys purchasing addresses from data mining services and distributing solicitations via mass mailings. This legislation will help to eliminate this practice. The NJSBA would also support an extension of the bill to cover traffic summonses issued by law enforcement officers,” the bar’s board of trustees said.

Republican Assemblymen Michael Patrick Carroll of Morris County and John DiMaio of Warrant County voted against the bill, as did Democrats John McKeon and Mila Jasey of Essex County.

The bill is sponsored by Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, R-Union, and by Democrats Troy Singleton of Burlington County and Annette Quijano of Union County.

Law Enforcement Jurisdiction

The Assembly also passed a bill, A-2948, which would require out-of-state police departments to notify state and local law enforcement agencies if they are conducting counter-terrorism surveillance operations in New Jersey.

The bill, sponsored by Quijano and Assemblyman Charles Mainor, D-Hudson, would require that the out-of-state law enforcement agency inform the Attorney General’s Office and local police where the surveillance is taking place, who is being watched, the identities of the officers involved and the length of the surveillance operation.

Mainor, a detective with the Jersey City Police Department, introduced the bill after reports came to light of New York City police officers conducting surveillance operations on Muslim groups in North Jersey, without the knowledge of New Jersey officials.

The bill passed in vote of 76-3, with Republicans Jon Bramnick and Nancy Munoz of Union County and Sean Kean of Monmouth County voting in opposition.

Municipal Copy Charges

The Assembly also passed A-1848, a bill that would limit what municipal courts may charge for making copies in discovery.

Municipalities would be allowed to charge no more than 5 cents per page copied.

The bill passed in a 79-0 vote. The sponsors are Assemblymen Patrick Diegnan and Jerry Green, both Democrats from Union County. •