Tag Archive: NJ Supreme Court

AFP NJ Tries To “Disrobe” Courts; Gets Caught With Pants Down Instead

Right after celebrating and trumpeting their cutting-edge digital hackitude, Americans For Prosperity are now trying to bury some embarrassment caused by the fumblings of their NJ chapter. A blog called epolitics.com first reported on this bit of hilarity:

The New Jersey branch of Americans for Prosperity recently launched a judicial elections initiative, promoted via a press release that also touted the website “NJDisrobed.com” as a source for “information about decisions and implications on the electorate.” One minor problem: no one had actually bothered to buy the URL yet, a situation that was quickly “rectified” by a liberal activist, who in turn pointed it at the Sourcewatch entry on Americans for Prosperity. Which of course lovingly details the group’s funding by the conservative Koch Brothers and its work on behalf of union-busters and the tobacco industry.

Besides being a true joy to tell you about, this particular screw-up is worse than the oopsie that led to that excellent Jane Corwin parody campaign site a couple of months ago, since at least Corwin’s staff had bought her OWN domain. Hey kids! Be sure to click on your link before you put it in a press release. Ah, sweet amateurs – without them, who would keep pros like us in business?

It seems that the gaffe went overlooked for a number of days before AFP realized the mistake and scrubbed the URL from their website, which now simply states that an unnamed website is forthcoming.  

How much media is Too Much Media?

Btw, tune in to NJN tonight at 6p for my interview on the subject. Special bonus (for those who haven’t been): it was filmed at my office. 🙂 -JG

Yesterday, the NJ Supreme Court ruled that a self-described journalist who posted comments on an internet message board was not covered by NJ’s Shield Law. (The Shield Law allows news reporters to protect the confidentially of sources and news or information gathered during the course of their work.)

The case, Too Much Media v. Hale, involved a New Jersey company that manufactures software known as NATS, which pornographic websites use to keep track of access to affiliated websites and determine what commissions are due the referring sites (talk about niche marketing!) and a woman in Washington State who accused TMM of violating New Jersey law. When TMM sued for defamation, Hale claimed she did not have to submit to a deposition because she was a news reporter protected by the Shield Law. The issue of whether Hale was entitled to that protection made it’s way to our state Supreme Court.

The Star Ledger reported on the decision with the scary headline: “NJ Supreme Court says blogger not protected from revealing her sources” and other media followed repeating the theme that “bloggers” do not enjoy NJ Shield Law protection. But, that’s not what the court said. In fact, the Court made it clear that a blogger would be protected if he/she met the 3 requirements expected of anyone seeking to invoke the Shield Law’s protections. More on the flip.  

Supreme Court Decision in School Funding Case

Update: In a press conference shortly after the ruling, Christie called the ruling “disappointing” but not “unexpected”, based on a failed legal and educational theory. Money doesn’t equal results. Says he will must comply with the constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court. Christie will leave it to the Legislature to find the money. Hat tip to both @GingerGibsonSL and @lisafleisher in the press conference.

As Deciminyan noted, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled today that the state must restore $500 million back to public education next year, far less than the $1.7 billion they might have ordered. And an out for a Governor who has both threatened simply to defy the Court if it ruled against him, and who has claimed New Jersey simply doesn’t have the money to fully fund the state’s schools under the funding formula approved by the court in 2009.

The majority opinion written by Associate Justice Jaynee LaVecchia said Christie’s deep cuts to NJ’s education spending have been “consequential and significant” and must be rolled back. That $500M is to be directed to the state’s poorest districts for the fiscal year beginning in July. Link to Supreme Court opinion.

It’s going to be much harder for Christie to defy the Court over $500 million, and less credible than it might have been to some voters if he claims New Jersey can’t reach that deep into its pockets: $500 million is not too far from the $400 million he intentionally botched in New Jersey’s failed efforts to get federal Race to the Top money. But Christie might defy the court anyway. Push comes to shove today, and he’s threatened to defy the Court over this several times. And defying the state’s Supreme Court is a curious position for that state’s chief executive, who as an attorney has sworn to uphold the law.

Christie is scheduled to talk to the press in just a few minutes. In a way, this decision allows Christie to further pit poor people in NJ’s cities against the wealthier suburbanites who make up his base. But how far is he willing to take that? How much deeper a wedge does he want to drive. If the Governor fights this $500 million into NJ’s cities, this could very well be Christie’s Let them eat cake moment.

Today’s decision arises from a lawsuit by the Newark-based Education Law Center, claiming that Gov. Christie’s slashes to state funding of its public schools were unconstitutional, violating the state’s constitutional requirement to provide “T & E,” the “thorough and efficient system of free public schools”. The Supreme Court ruled today, in essence, that Christie’s cuts did in fact leave the state unable to provide “T & E” education, but with the poorest districts left most vulnerable to those cuts, and the remedy directed to those districts.  

Star-Ledger doubles statehouse bureau staff

Star-Ledger announced some news of the own last night. They’re doubling their staff at their statehouse bureau to cover Gov. Christie, the legislature, and the NJ Supreme Court. And, for their part, Politicker is launching their State Street Wire March 1. More coverage isn’t necessarily better coverage. And we compete with both, for readers and to provide context for those readers. But I’m glad to see this happen in commercial news coverage because they’ve taken a lot of hits over the last few years, and both the Ledger and politicker have, and I read them both.

Three years ago, Star-Ledger laid off 40% of its newsroom staff, which the New York Times noted at the time was one of the largest reductions in a single move by a major American paper. The Times had just had its own round of editorial layoffs – a first for the Times – and was soon to lay off another 100 newsroom staff, and the national paper of record no longer covers New Jersey news as closely as it once did. Across the country newsrooms were and are hurting; advertising down, and costs up – from bedrock papers like the Times and Ledger to smaller, locally-essential weeklies. The Delaware Valley News, which covered the river towns along the New Jersey and Pennsylvania banks of the Delaware, closed three years ago too – the first paper I ever worked for. Around the same time, Politicker’s national expansion took a dive, shutting down 12 state sites. (Juan Melli, who became Associate Editor at politicker.com 3 years after founding Blue Jersey, was out with that round of layoffs).

With massive shifts in editorial staffing have come changes, new ventures like newjerseynewsroom.com, formed out of the ruins of the Star-Ledger layoffs by journalists whose experience “adds up to over 1,000 years”. And into the reporting void, hyperlocals are springing up to catch news a new way, in very focused geographical areas. Citizen’s Campaign’s new NJ Hyperlocal News Association is helping hyperlocals develop, an effort Blue Jersey is involved in, in our own small way.

The latest bad news for newspapers came in a one-two punch over the last few days. It was the last day at work for nearly half of Gannett’s editorial staff with job losses at Courier News, Home News Tribune and Daily Record. One of those let go, Daily Record’s political columnist Fred Snowflack, who outed himself as a Democrat on his way out the door. And – bad timing – that bill that would allow municipalities to post legal notices on their websites rather than requiring them to pay newspapers for the service. Newspapers, the Star-Ledger in the lead, are charging that this is less a cost-cutting option for government and less an effort by government to control their content and cripple them financially. Jury’s still out on that one, for me.

So, I’m liking new reporting muscle at the state house. Good luck, Star-Ledger. Politicker too. Good luck.

Codey calls on Rivera-Soto to resign – immediately

This is entirely fair, and Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto had it coming.

Calling him “not fit to sit on the court any longer”, Sen. Dick Codey today sent a letter to New Jersey’s reluctant Supreme Court Justice, calling on him to resign, and do so immediately.

Last month, Rivera-Soto declared he would refuse to engage in court rulings. This week, he announced he won’t seek renomination when his term expires later this year. Not that he’d have a chance in hell of getting that nomination without a howl of public protest.  Codey’s letter is harsh, and the harshness is deserved; what else do you say to a guy with a high-paying public job he categorically refuses to do? Quoting Sen. Codey’s letter (read it here):

Your continued presence in what you have made the state’s most luxurious and high-profile no-show job simply does nothing to serve the best interests of the public.

[snip]

As each day goes by, your actions create more and more problems for the people of New Jersey and the justice system. I ask you to do the honorable thing now and resign your seat so that we can continue with the business of the courts in the dignified manner which you have failed to uphold.

Codey’s letter signals – again – the Senate’s willingness to compromise on Gov. Christie’s pick Anne Patterson, suggesting she could be considered for Rivera-Soto’s job, once he’s out of it.  

Whistle While You Work

        Just whistle while you work

       And cheerfully together we can tidy up the place.


                Disney: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

WikiLeaks, today’s ultimate whistleblower, has just provided us with some 250,000 documents about our State Department’s deeds and misdeeds. WikiLeaks plays such a critical role because the statute for federal employee whistleblowers is weak and the special court which hears these cases has provided redress in only three of over 300 cases. (The Supreme Court ruled that government employees do not have protection from retaliation if the alleged speech was produced as part of their duties.) We should now take another look at our own NJ law.

The New Jersey Supreme Court has described the state’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) as “the most far reaching ‘whistle-blower statute’ in the nation.” Since 1986 CEPA had made it illegal “for New Jersey employers to retaliate against any employee who discloses the employer’s illegal conduct, provides evidence about such conduct, or simply objects to conduct that the employee reasonably believes is illegal.” In April this year a New Jersey Transit employee received a record $569,587 award after a federal investigation found that NJ Transit illegally retaliated against him. In October a NJ State Trooper won a  $240,000 verdict for his whistleblower lawsuit.

Public Employees for Environmental Protection (PEER) holds a less sanguine view of CEPA. In its Accountability Report Card Summary 2009 for New Jersey, it determines:

NJ has an uneven state whisleblower law: scoring only 58 out of a possible 100 points and Ranking 12th out of 51. NJ has a very narrow statute (9 out of 33 possible points), with moderate usability (21 out of 33), and strong remedies (27 out of 33) plus one bonus point awarded foe employee notification rights.

We lose points because the statute does not cover such categories as gross mismanagement, abuse of authority, waste of public funds, alteration of technical findings, and breaches of professional ethics canons.

Our governor says he supports transparency but he also uses bullying, fear, and overblown rhetoric which stifle whistle-blowing. In a federal setting WikiLeaks is like a loose cannon – of great utility but also providing collateral damage. It is much better to have good laws than to rely on loose cannons. It is time for the NJ legislature to review our own law.

“Be careful how you carry out your task of judging”

Whether or not Justice Wallace is replaced on the court with Governor Christie’s nominee, there are many who believe that a message is clearly being sent. Former Chief Justice Deborah Poritz criticized Governor Christie, saying judicial term limits are there to remove judges who have proven unqualified:

“By doing this through the tenure process, I think the governor sends a different signal,” she said. “The signal is be careful how you carry out your task of judging because that may affect whether you get tenure or not. And that affects the independence of the judiciary.”

Assembly Minority Leader DeCroce was critical of Poritz, but other non-partisan onlookers have been critical as well. The State Bar Association as Rosi noted in the roundup, also weighed in with sentiment along these lines:

I am here to sound an alarm. As we stand at this precipice today, the independence of our courts is in jeopardy.

We have entered a phase when judges of this state may begin to fear political retribution depending on how they decide a case. And the citizens of this state may from this day forward fear their disputes will be decided by partisan political philosophies and not the unbiased application of the law.

And the past president of the Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers of New Jersey, a former trustee of the New Jersey State Bar Association himself was critical of the Governor’s actions and rationale:

What troubles Christie is not Wallace’s qualifications for reappointment; his credentials are impeccable. What the governor finds bothersome, for no good reason, is that the court is not deciding cases in the way Christie would like them decided. So what to do? Refuse reappointment to a deserving jurist and use him as the surrogate for all you dislike about the court, even though the justice was not even on the court when many of the decisions you disfavor were rendered.

Maybe they missed all those good stories about the Governor’s move too. Or maybe they just actually understand the consequences of Christie’s actions.  

108 days

That’s how long Chris Christie managed to govern before a state appellate court had to scold him for a greedy executive power grab.

Earlier today the court ruled that Christie overstepped his authority when he issued an executive order applying pay-to-play regulations to public sector unions. In a per curiam decision, the court held that Executive Order No. 7, one of eight Christie signed on his first day in office, “is so fundamentally incompatible with our existing laws and statutes as to impair the ‘essential integrity’ of the constitutional powers of the Legislature.”

In short, the court reminded Christie that, even though he was elected governor last November with 48.75% of the vote, he is not entitled to make his own laws. If Christie wants to limit campaign contributions of public employee unions, he can ask the legislature to pass new legislation to that effect.

The governor seems to have learned well from his former boss, who aggressively pushed to expand and abuse the power of the president. Christie, like Bush, possesses a seemingly endless supply of arrogance. He will attempt to abuse his power again, even though New Jersey’s governor is already one of the most powerful state executives in the nation.

Fortunately, we also have a state judiciary that is willing to rebuke the governor when he oversteps his authority—at least for now. But we may not in the future. Christie will be able to pick as many as four judges to the seven-member Supreme court. Don’t be surprised if the Governor takes another page from the Bush playbook by nominating judges who he can count on to accede to his executive power grabs. Christie may figure that if he wins the judiciary, the legislature won’t matter anymore. Legislative Democrats should closely scrutinize all of Christie’s judicial appointments, rejecting them where appropriate, lest the governor’s executive power grabs more often go unchecked.

Christie doesn’t want activist judges, just people who will change the direction of the court

It’s pretty amazing that no one in the media has really talked about this. As he rails against the court for being activist saying that Justice Wallace has participated and therefore must go, Christie is the one who keeps talking about changing the court:

Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said Christie “has been consistent and clear that he wanted to change the direction and philosophy of the court. That was what this decision was all about, and nothing more.”

So let me see if I understand. The guy who wants to make drastic change in the direction and philosophy of the court isn’t the activist, right? Wallace wasn’t even on the court when many of the decisions that the right doesn’t like were handed down. Christie says he doesn’t want people who will “legislate from the bench.” It appears he just ones that will approve his policies when they are challenged in the courts, because we all know they will be challenged. A Bergen Record editorial even called it “Executive Activism.”

On why the media hasn’t looked at the substance of the issue: there’s no foe, no dragon to slay. It doesn’t sell newspapers or get ratings. But the controversy and conflict between the Governor and the Legislature? That’s some exciting news to talk about. I’m not saying the showdown isn’t newsworthy, but the media isn’t telling the full story, which is a disservice to their audience.