5/31/08

Gov. Corzine abuses collective bargaining

Pro-union Gov. misused Open Records Act

More than 740 pages of emails sent between Gov. Jon S. Corzine and his former girlfriend, labor leader Carla Katz, are public records not protected by executive privilege and must be released, a state Superior Court judge ruled Friday. Corzine, who dated Katz while a United States senator and paid her a financial settlement when ending their relationship, had tried to keep a lid on the emails, arguing they were private, collective bargaining-related communications.

State Republicans sued one year ago, saying it is important to know what was being said during negotiations for a new state contract with the Communications Workers of America. Katz is president of CWA Local 1034.

"The public has a right to know whether the relationship between the governor and Ms. Katz had any improper influence or effect on the governor's paramount obligation to serve the interest of the citizens of New Jersey first," Superior Court Judge Paul Innes wrote in a 21-page decision released Friday afternoon.

"He doesn't have the law to hide behind anymore. The judge could not have been more clear," said Republican Party state chairman Tom Wilson.

Corzine said the emails will not be exciting for the public.

"Most of these you would find extremely boring," said Corzine, who gave as an example "Suppose you were reading a bill."

Corzine said he agrees with Attorney General Anne Milgram's decision to appeal to protect the right of executive privilege for future governors.

"We're on the first rung of a three-rung ladder," Corzine said of the court process, adding the case is likely to ultimately head to the state Supreme Court.

Attorney General Anne Milgram, whose office represents Corzine, said she is disappointed and disagreed with the ruling she called narrow. She said the office plans to file within two weeks asking for the emails' release date to be delayed.

"Our position has consistently been and continues to be the communications of the governor and the governor's staff are protected by executive privilege," she said.

Innes said executive privilege is an established precedent in New Jersey but is limited in scope. He noted Katz was not one of Corzine's staffers and that their relationship created a clear potential for conflict.

"Of course, it well may be that Ms. Katz, despite her position in the public employee union, was also an advisor to the governor. But, any role she may have had as advisor would not serve to protect all her communications with the governor under the doctrine of executive privilege," Innes wrote.

It's still unclear how many e-mails were exchanged. The judge's ruling notes that 55 pages should remain confidential. Each has been numbered on a log kept secret even from those filing the suit. The highest number the judge referenced was 796. Wilson said the number refers to the amount of emails exchanged between Corzine and Katz; the Corzine administration, however, said any multiple-page email could account for several numbers but refused to give a number for how many emails were submitted to the court.

Milgram declined to comment about the emails, sticking to the administration's theme that the fight to keep them private isn't about secrecy but rather protecting executive privilege for Corzine and future governors.

"It's not about the substance of the e-mails," Milgram said. "It has never been. This is about a constitutional issue."

Katz had tried to keep the e-mails private, saying they were part of collective bargaining, which Corzine's office denied.

Katz's lawyer, Sidney Lehmann, said in a statement that he will also appeal the ruling.

"This entire lawsuit has always been motivated by the Republican Party's and Tom Wilson's desire to misuse the court system to embarrass the Governor for political gain," Lehmann said. "We continue to believe that these emails, sent with the expectation of privacy, should rightfully remain private."

(app.com)

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