Judge stands by order to prevent pics, videos at courthouse during freeholders’ ICE vote

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On the heels of a four-plus hour meeting where the Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders voted to phase out the county’s deal with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Assignment Judge Peter Bariso is standing by his decision to not permit any photographs or videos inside the courthouse. 

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

“I don’t like certain areas being photographed or filmed being available to the public. Initially there needs to be permission slips sought, and nobody did that, and we had security and privacy concerns,” Bariso told HCV over the phone.

“Public meetings should not be held at the courthouse and I did not find out about the meeting until 1:45 p.m. [yesterday] when a captain from the sheriff’s office asked me about it.”

Many of the advocates in attendance, as well as some members of the media, felt the meeting was being conducted under a cloud of secrecy since Bariso had ruled filming and photography would be barred at the venue.

While this is standard procedure for court proceedings, where media can take photos and videos with prior approval from Bariso, just about everybody was operating under the assumption this standard would not apply to a public meeting – Freeholder Chair Anthony Vainieri (D-8) included.

As Hudson County View first reported, Vainieri said that the board’s special meeting on October 11th would be held at the county courthouse and no one had anticipated any curveballs at that time.

HCV’s Marc Bussanich attempted to go through security at the courthouse around 5:45 p.m. last night, but sheriff’s officers working the door said that no cameras would be allowed in the building.

Since he had taken public transportation to the meeting and had a full ensemble of video equipment with him, that left our reporter with no other option but to call it a night early – with several other media outlets being forced to make the same call for similar reasons.

“When we were told there was no videoing, my face dropped. Judge Bariso has a strict policy apparently, we reached out to the judge, but unfortunately he couldn’t make an exception. I even asked the freeholders in public session if anyone knew no cameras were allowed and no one said they did.”

The resolution to phase out the ICE contract by the end of 2020 passed by a vote of 6-3, with Freeholders Bill O’Dea (D-2), Joel Torres (D-4) and Tilo Rivas (D-6) voting no.

Vainieri says that it is possible the county will be out of the deal before then, but it is going to take smart, meticulous planning given the amount of money the deal has netted and is projected to net.

“Hopefully we can be out of this ICE contract before 2020 with plans going the way we’re going. The county executive and the administration is working to see how we can offset this money: this contract netted $23 million to date this year and is projected to do $25 million next year,” the North Bergen freeholder stated.

“I’m not going back to my constituents with a $1 million dollar tax increase, I feel bad people aren’t going to be able to visit their families, but they wanted us to listen to the people so that’s what we’re doing.”

Vainieri added that he never considered rescheduling the meeting over the photography gaffe since he made a commitment last month that the board would vote on the ICE contract during their October 11th session.

“I promised the vote on October 11th and we got a the vote on October 11th. We apologize for that [issue with photos and videos] but it was just something that happened.”

O’Dea, the vice chair of the board, had been adamant about tabling the board’s vote on the contract in July and had since urged getting out of the agreement, but yet still voted no last night.

He told Hudson County View that the wording of the resolution in question did not inspire a lot of confidence that the contract will actually be terminated in 2020.

“I voted no because I’m not convinced, the way the resolution is written, that the resolution will be enforceable without a subsequent vote in two years. The resolution was written in a way not to offend ICE and I wasn’t about going out of my way accommodate ICE,” O’Dea stated.

The approved resolution says that “whereas, the term of this agreement will begin on January 2, 2018 and be for the longest period of time allowed by law, however any continuation beyond December 31, 2020 must be authorized by a further resolution of the Board.”

When asked about Bariso’s order, O’Dea went off on the assignment judge.

“That policy has to be redone: it was atrocious. The fact that the assignment judge didn’t inform the legislative body of this is unforgivable: we should’ve been notified. If we were notified, we would’ve moved the meeting back to our chambers,” he began.

“Cameras and camera crews have to be allowed in any public meeting, that’s why you’re allowed to go into a closed session. There’s a cloud over our meeting and it wasn’t put by us, it was put by the assignment judge and he had an obligation to inform us before the meeting. Shame on the assignment judge for not notifying us in a timely matter and allowing us to make accommodations.”

Bariso declined to respond to O’Dea’s criticisms.