The Kratovil Case – an Update

A press freedom case out of New Brunswick may be headed to the state Supreme Court.

The genesis of it all was when Charles Kratovil, the editor of the local news site, New Brunswick Today, learned that the city’s then-police director lived in Cape May, about two hours away.

In seeking comment from city officials about this at a council meeting, the editor revealed the director’s street address.

And that began the still unfolding legal process.

Kratovil said he got what he terms a “cease and desist” letter from the city, threatening legal action if he disclosed the address of the director, Anthony Caputo in a news story.

The basis for the letter was “Daniel’s Law,” which was passed after a deranged individual invaded the New Jersey home of a federal judge in 2020, killing her son.

The law allows judges and other law enforcement officials to have their home addresses removed from public records. Ordinarily, there are a number of ways to fund an individual’s home address – property tax records, mortgage records and voter registration lists.

Kratovil responded with a suit, challenging what he termed a violation of his First Amendment rights.

The journalist was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and the defendants included not only the city, but various other police agencies.

A state Superior Court judge initially ruled in favor of the defendants, dismissing Kratovil’s suit.

And last week, the state Appellate Division did likewise.

In doing so, it agreed with the lower court’s finding that a New Brunswick official living in Cape May was a legitimate matter of public concern.

It said Kratovil was free to write a story saying Caputo lives in Cape May, but publishing his actual address could violate Daniel’s Law.

As the court put it:

“We agree with the trial court’s determination that in light of plaintiff’s ability to publish that Caputo lived in Cape May without fear of sanction, he was not entitled to injunctive relief.”

It is worth nothing that in most cases, newspapers and the like are only interested in an individual’s home town, not the actual address.

Nonetheless, in this case, Kratovil through his lawyers argued that the “cease and desist” letter threatened the journalist’s First Amendment rights.

Not surprisingly, Kratovil is not going away. Here is some of what he said in a statement:

“It is unfortunate that the Appellate Division has taken a very narrow view of what the ‘matter of public interest’ is in my case against the City of New Brunswick and its former Police Director, Anthony Caputo.

I am disappointed with their decision and, after consulting with my counsel, we will be appealing to the New Jersey Supreme Court.”

He added:

“The opinion released (last Friday) oversimplifies the matter of public interest as the mere fact that Mr. Caputo lived in Cape May while holding positions in New Brunswick.  There is much more to the story and I would like to tell that story without the facts being edited by the judiciary.”

He indicated that the “much more” includes Caputo leaving his New Brunswick position and taking a job in Cape May County. There is also the case of Caputo’s one-time deputy director being hired for another job in city government Clearly, much about this story has to do with internal New Brunswick politics. The relevance is that in New Jersey – a place with more than

500 municipalities – there is a lot of internal politics.

Daniel’s Law came about after a heinous incident. This case, however, is not a challenge to the substance of Daniel’s Law.’

It is a challenge to how it may be applied.

With that in mind, a review by the state’s highest court seems to be in order.

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