MURPHY V. NORCROSS: Judge Jacobson Rules Against Norcross Forces’ Efforts to Stop Task Force

Following over three hours of arguments and an hour-long decision explanation, Assignment Judge Mary Jacobson this evening ruled in favor of Governor Phil Murphy’s side in the ongoing slog of George Norcross v. Murphy.

Norcross’ attorneys argued that Governor Murphy’s task force hearings into the awarding of EDA tax incentives to Camden caused irreparable harm to the reputation of their client. They also questioned the governor’s authority to create the task force in the first place.

But Jacobson ruled against their efforts to stop the task force from issuing its first report.

The governor’s task force needs to be able to issue its report, argued attorney Ted Wells, who represented the Murphy Administration in his argument before Jacobson.

Anything short of the judge granting the report’s issuance would mean a radical change.

The judge in the end agreed.

“The public has every right to know,” said Wells. “He [Murphy] would be derelict if he didn’t form the task force. They’re trying to suppress fundamental information for the public.

“They are talking about a radical change in how government operates,” the defense attorney added. “You’d have complete chaos the system could not tolerate. They are asking for a radical and unprecedented ruling. The governor has every right to hold a hearing. There’s no basis to withhold or stop him.”

The team of attorneys representing South Jersey Power Broker George Norcross III begged to differ.

Veteran attorney Mike Critchley went off on the task force formed by Murphy to examine the state Economic Development Authority.

Critchley denounced a force that did not have trial-like rights but nonetheless employed a trial-like setting.

“Everyone is under investigation,” he said referring to the designs of the task force, which submitted a criminal referral implicating the law firm of the brother of his client, South Jersey Power Broker George Norcross III.

“That’s not what the legislature intended,” Critchley said. “It intended to explain, enlarge, and to clarify. They took that away from us. They say all Norcross wants to do is stop an investigation. That’s absurd. What we don’t have a lack of in New Jersey is investigative agencies.”

Critchley took the judge on a tour of the very concept of gubernatorial power in New Jersey.

In 1776, the constitution limited gubernatorial power in a way that prevented him from being a king;

in 1844, the state affirmed that the governor be elected by the people;

and in 1944-47, New Jersey leaders streamlined government at a constitutional draft convention.

“One of the chief drafters was [Chief Justice] Arthur Vanderbilt,” said Critchley.

Vanderbilt

The constitution manifestly intended to separate the power of governor from state agencies like the turnpike authority, Critchley argued.

“We want to have a strong executive,” said the attorney.

But from what authority springs this ability for the governor to engage in this activity? he demanded.

His legal allies backed him up on the point.

“The task force has gone off without legislative authority,” said Kevin Marino. “This is a grand jury proceeding in the public square. …The governor doesn’t have aggregate powers.”

Critchley denounced a force that did not have trial-like rights but nonetheless employed a trial-like setting.

“Everyone is under investigation,” he said referring to the designs of the task force, which submitted a criminal referral implicating the law firm of the brother of his client, South Jersey Power Broker George Norcross III.

“That’s not what the legislature intended,” Critchley said. “It intended to explain, enlarge, and to clarify. They took that away from us. They say all Norcross wants to do is stop an investigation. That’s absurd. What we don’t have a lack of in New Jersey is investigative agencies.”

ttorney Herbert Stern narrowed the discussion to the judge’s consideration of New Jersey Statute 52:15-7, which states that the governor “is authorized at any time, either in person or by one or more persons appointed by him for the purpose, to examine and investigate the management by any State officer of the affairs of any department, board, bureau or commission of the State and to examine and investigate the management and affairs of any department, board, bureau or commission of the State.”

A few moments later, Governor Phil Murphy’s attorney Ted Wells told Jacobson that 52:15-7 clearly did not authorize the task force to send out subpoenas.

But Governor Murphy wrote a letter to Ronald Chen and designated him with the power to operate under 52:15-7, Wells noted.

New Jersey Working Families Alliance State Director Sue Altman – an ally of the governor – issued the following statement in response to Judge Jacobson’s ruling on the Economic Development Authority case:

Judge Jacobson’s carefully well-reasoned decision authorizing the release of the investigative task

Altman

force’s report on the Economic Development Authority is a victory for democracy and transparent government.

The people of New Jersey deserve to see this report immediately so they can understand how billions of dollars in promised tax incentives have been awarded and used by some of our state’s most politically powerful companies.

Yet even as the legal process has been playing out, the Legislature has been rushing through legislation to reauthorize the Economic Opportunity Act. As Judge Jacobson said, “The public has the right to know what the report says so they can contact their legislators” about this issue.

The Legislature must avoid any action reauthorizing the state’s tax incentive programs until the report has been released and carefully analyzed. Anything else is unacceptable, fundamentally undemocratic and an embarrassment to the people of New Jersey.

 

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