Tag Archive: Court

Pen/Ben Court Hearing at 10:00 am AND Christie Introduces a Distraction

<<10:30 am The hearing webcast should be appearing here shortly in a Windows Media Player.>>

The N. J. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today on the Pen/Ben case starting at about 10:00 am at the Hughes Justice Complex, 25 Market St., Trenton. Do not expect to find seating unless you have already reserved it. To watch online you can access the live webcast at njcourts.com starting at 10 am. Other outlets will also likely broadcast the hearings.  

On the evening before the court’s hearing, which includes whether the State must make an additional payment of about $1.6 billion into the the pension fund by June 30, Gov. Christie’s office issued a statement. “Encouraging state revenues might provide another $200 million to pump into the public worker pension system this year.” The timing of this announcement seems quite convenient and not coincidental. It makes for a nice headline, but it will not distract the court from the merits of the case. The $200 million is only a small piece of what is due, and “might provide” does not mean “will provide.”

The statement is based on the Tax Collection Report of March 31, 2015 which indicates year to date collections at $18.4 billion are 5.3% above last year. That is good news. However, the report goes on to project revenue for the year at $32.6 billion (a 5.3% increase) which may or may not fully materialize. To achieve the projection revenue for the year, $14.2 billion would have to be collected in the last three months. Such is not impossible as amounts due on income tax are often not paid until April 15 or later. However, with such a large sum due in a few months, any projection is highly speculative.

In effect it is still too early to determine whether $200 million more will be available, and it’s irrelevant to main issue. The issue before the court is the constitutionality of the Pen/Ben law and what payment plan the State must follow. Good try, Governor Christie.

In court, unions lose this round on Christie’s decision to short NJ’s pension payment

A decision that only applies to the fiscal year ending Monday was issued today by Judge Mary Jacobson, and it’s a loss for the more than dozen NJ unions that claimed Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to cut the state’s payment into its pension system by a whopping $900 was a violation of the law. Her decision comes just 5 days before the end of this fiscal year.

Jacobson said Christie’s decision:  

CD7 Dem Janice Kovach is back on the June ballot

Janice Kovach, who saw a chunk of her petition signatures invalidated by the Division of Elections, is back on the June ballot. Kovach prevailed before an administrative law judge whose ruling came down today.

Kovach announced she was running to unseat Rep; Leonard Lance back in January. Kovach is the NJ state Democrats’ longtime party Secretary, the Hunterdon County Democrats’ Vice-Chair and the mayor of Clinton since 2012. She also ran the Division on Women under Corzine.

A chunk of Kovach’s signatures were disqualified because the person gathering them (the circulator in elections parlance) did not live in the 7th congressional district. Administrative Law Judge Susan Scarola overruled that decision today. Kovach submitted affadavits from some of her signers which Scarola said should have been accepted. Kovach was represented by attorneys at Genova Burns, a firm specializing in election law. Her attorney, Rajiv D. Parikh, said Judge Mary Jacobson ruled recently that it is unconstitutional to require petition circulators to live in the same district as the candidate.

Will Christie Try to Oust Rabner?Anticipating Christie’s Next Move Against an Independent Judiciary

Christie’s been governor for 4 years now. It may be getting easier to anticipate disreputable actions he may take, particularly when they favor his own flagging political fortunes.  And that’s what was going on outside a courthouse in Trenton yesterday. And the stakes and timeline are ramping up.

Chris Christie’s poll numbers are tanking at home and in Iowa, his inner circle subpoenaed and struggling . And he’s making national news for all the wrong reasons, including the latest bit of offensive weirdness, Christie doling out remnants of 9/11 wreckage to mayors whose endorsement he wanted. WTF.

More of what’s eating at Christie, plus vid, on the jump.

Outside the Courthouse in Trenton Today

As Bill laid out this morning, today is a key moment in the timeline of the investigation of the political ramifications of the sudden lane closures and 5-day traffic chaos last September. This morning, as the proceeding began, Judge Mary Jacobson called it what most New Jerseyans do by now: “the Bridgegate controversy”. Arguments are still going on inside the courtroom. This was the scene outside the courthouse:

Created with flickr slideshow.

Participants include the following: AFTNJ, NAACP,  Justice at Stake, NJEA, Health Professionals & Allied Employees, PFANJ, NJ Citizen Action, Working Families Alliance, Lambda Legal, Latino Action Network, Fair Share Housing, CWA, 1199 SEIU, 32 BJ, NJ United Students, and IFPTE.

The outcome of these proceedings may have tremendous impact on the ability of the people’s elected representatives – the investigative panel led by John Wisniewski and Loretta Weinberg – to find out who was ultimately responsible for what appears to be a massive misuse of government power and risk to public safety when the lanes were closed without warning or timehonored professional procedure, as well as possible cover-up, and motive. For the two Christie advisors whose lawyers are making their case inside (which just ended now after more than 3 hours) much is at stake, too. They both may know a great deal, and their own futures are at stake.

But there are larger questions at stake too, to protect the independence and integrity of NJ’s judiciary system, which is why all those people showed up outside the courthouse today. That’s my next post.

Photos: Rob Duffey, Hetty Rosenstein and Ann Vardeman.

Christie loses in court: NJ Supreme reject his attempt to kill off COAH

The New Jersey Supreme Court today rules 5-2 that Gov. Chris Christie does not have the power to abolish agencies intended to be independent.

“The plain language of the Reorganization Act does not authorize the Chief Executive to abolish an independent agency like COAH.”

       – from the decision, written by Chief Justice Stuart Rabner

Read the decision. And here are the briefs and additional info.

Today’s decision upholds an appellate court ruling in 2012 which reached the same conclusion. Adam Gordon of Fair Share Housing Center argued the case at the Supreme Court:

“The Supreme Court’s decision ensures greater public participation and transparency in important decisions on where homes get built. It’s a bad idea for policies involving homes for working families, people with special needs, and lower-income seniors to be made behind closed doors.  Especially after Sandy, we need to encourage more homes for people of all incomes.”

The Court found that the statute that created COAH requires bipartisan control of the Council, with no more than 6 of its 12 members from the same party. The membership requirements call for a cross-section of community and state interests to make sure different voices have representation, including local government, households in need of low- and moderate-income housing, nonprofit builders of affordable housing, the disabled, for-profit builders, and the public interest.

In other words, a balanced group to better serve people in need, not a housing policy directed by one guy. Particularly one who has demonstrated little interest in serving communities in need. This decision comes as the Christie administration is trying to take $165 million in housing trust funds from municipalities, which translates to thousands of homes that wouldn’t be built. Gordon stresses that today’s decision is the Court’s rejection of “the Governor’s attempt to shut the public out of this process.”

Amazing. We called Christie out on his attempts at naked power grabs back in 2010. Not much has changed in his methods or his direction since then.  

Appellate Court Rejects Challenge to Special Election

As the Star-Ledger reported this evening, “A three-judge appellate panel has rejected a challenge to Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to call a special election to fill the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s seat in October, three weeks before the regularly scheduled November election.”

Sen. Barbara Buono responded, “Regardless of the outcome of the court’s decision, holding an election on a Wednesday in October is a cynical decision by Governor Christie that will disenfranchise voters.  As the governor himself said in 2009, ‘I don’t think any responsible governor at this point would call for a special election that would cost ten million dollars.’ The governor should do the fiscally responsible thing and move the election to November.”

To read the Appellate Court ruling go here. State Superior Cour Judge Jane Grall wrote, “Without question, the Governor was authorized to call a special election in this circumstance…  The  Legislature has delegated broad authority to the State’s governor. The question for us is whether the date selected by the Governor is in violation of the law or Constitution, and we conclude that it is not.”

The challenge was filed last by Friday by Peg Schaffer, the Somerset County Democratic chairwoman, who is now considering whether to appeal the matter to the Supreme Court.

For the Governor, holding a separate Special Election removes the Senatorial candidates from the top of the November election ballot and gives more prominence to the Governor. It also removes the benefit for Sen. Buono of having a strong Democratic Senatorial candidate on the same ballot. Two elections three weeks apart are not conducive to voter turn out.    

Shield Law Upheld For Blogger, But I’m Still Confused

MediaBob wants to know what you think of this, Blue Jersey. Promoted by Rosi.

OK, I like the New Jersey shield law, and that it protects bloggers.  But I’m not sure I get the recent decision about Tina Renna, an activist blogger in Union County who runs The County Watchers blog.  She writes (and states in court documents) that she has 16 names of county employees who used county generators for personal or unapproved purposes after Hurricane Sandy.

Prosecutor Ted Romankow subpoenaed Renna for the names of those 16 people because misusing public resources is a crime.  But Renna fought the subpoena by saying the names would reveal her source.  I can see that.  

But here’s where I get confused. Apparently Renna as a blogger is shielded by the law because:

Judge Karen Cassidy … said Renna “obtained material in the course of professional newsgathering activities” with the aim of disseminating it over the internet. (sic)

But Renna didn’t disseminate the information on the Internet, and is trying to keep it secret. She is, instead, in court trying to keep the information private.  

I’m torn.  Renna is an activist as well as a blogger/reporter, and she definitely has it in for the Union County government and it’s leaders.  I don’t have a problem with that, obviously, since Blue Jersey is similar.  But Renna made an allegation of malfeasance and crime by people holding public jobs, and to me this seems like wanting to have it both ways: 1) she gets to hurt the folks she’s working against with an allegation; but 2) doesn’t actually have to back up the allegation.  

So what do you think, Blue Jersey?  Does this meet what you think the measure should be for shielding reporters?  Not what the law says (though any lawyers who want to weigh in on that, come on!), but what you think would be the proper use of a shield law in this case.

And some snark below the fold.

This Morning: Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Christie Supreme Court Nominees Kwon & Harris

UPDATE: Legislature’s video streaming has begun, with NJTV’s Michael Aron providing an introduction. Excellent to see NJTV step into live coverage of the legislature. Hearing begins with a statement by Phillip Kwon.

Phillip Kwon and Bruce Harris
Kwon (hand on chin) & Harris (far right)

The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Gov. Chris Christie’s high court nominees Phillip Kwon and Bruce Harris is scheduled to start at 10:30 this morning (note: committee hearings often begin late).

Two ways you can follow along:

1. Listen live at the NJ Legislature’s media page.

You will need Windows Media Player, which you can download free from a link at the page. Refresh the media page frequently until the hearing status goes from Pending to Available.

2. @bluejersey Follow Blue Jersey’s live-Tweet account of the proceedings.

Senator Loretta Weinberg, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee tells Blue Jersey that she expects this hearing will run late into the day.

Senate Judiciary Committee member list