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Challenges of Daniel’s Law

by Albert B. Kelly, Mayor, City of Bridgeton

If you spend any time thinking about legislation, you recognize that no matter how righteous the motivation and how well-crafted the law, there are always unintended consequences. Often the challenge is in implementing a law and working it through down on street level. That seems to be the case with “Daniel’s Law,” signed into law by Gov. Murphy in November.

Daniel’s Law is named for Daniel Anderl, the 20-year-old son of U.S. District Judge Esther Salas. The young man was shot and killed last summer when Roy Den Hollander, a misogynistic lawyer with a case before Judge Salas.

Motivated by hate and enraged toward her because of her Hispanic heritage, he found the judge’s home address, posed as a FedEx driver and rang the doorbell of her home on July 19, 2020, hoping to confront Judge Salas. Instead, Den Hollander encountered her son Daniel and then her husband Mark, who was seriously wounded in the attack. Den Hollander was found dead shortly thereafter from a self-inflicted gunshot.

Most will agree with the goals of the legislation—to protect those who work in our judicial system and their families. This makes sense since these men and women are on the front lines of dealing with criminals. As I understand the law, it prohibits making public the home addresses (and other information) of current and retired federal, state and municipal officers of the court as well as law enforcement officers, spouses or their children. This includes on the internet and other potentially public sources.

The difficulty comes into play as far as implementation. Officials, especially those at the municipal level, will need some additional help and guidance in terms of how to handle everything advertising tax sales to handling other routine business whether it involves a 200-foot list associated with a zoning board or planning board applications or advertising other records normally released in the name of transparency.

Few question the need to protect our judicial officers, but doing so while also balancing transparency and the public’s right to know will not be accomplished easily. I imagine that names and other identifying features could be swapped out for some other generic term whether “John Doe ” or simply “Access Restricted” but as often as these monikers appear, someone intent on finding out will know they’re getting warm.

Perhaps more challenging for second- and third-tier municipalities—including their clerks, tax collectors, tax assessors, code offices, and construction offices—will be sifting through records to find out and understand who is an officer of the court or a law enforcement officer, as well as who constitutes an “immediate family member.”

“Immediate family member” is defined in the new law as a spouse, child, or parent of an active, formerly active, or retired judicial officer; prosecutor, law enforcement officer, or any other family member related by blood or by law to the judicial officer, prosecutor, or law enforcement officer who lives in the same residence. Lacking a scarlet letter, knowing and identifying the officials and those deemed as immediate family members turns into identifying hundreds of people.

This translates into potentially thousands of records. For a community such as Bridgeton, where a fair number of people covered by this bill like to work their side hustle as landlords, this becomes a monumental task for every department that needs to figure out who is covered and what needs to be redacted.

Mayoral Musings