Thursday, September 18, 2014
NJ Watchdog appeals denial of Christie travel records
For immediate release:
Gov. Chris Christie’s attempt to flout state travel rules will be contested in New Jersey appeals court.
The case pits the governor’s power versus transparency in government – a cause Christie once championed.
In the Superior Court Appellate Division, a New Jersey Watchdog reporter is challenging a trial judge's rejection of a lawsuit seeking records of who paid for Christie’s unofficial out-of-state trips.
Under Treasury Circular 12-14-OMB, third-party organizations that fund the travel of state officials must disclose the payment arrangements in writing. The state agency or office is required to retain those records.
“Our position is that the regulation does not apply,” argued Assistant Attorney General Lewis Scheindlin on behalf of the governor in Mercer County Superior Court. “If it doesn’t apply, the next question is whether these records exist.”
As evidence, Christie’s lawyers submitted a 35-year-old memo to former Gov. Brendan Byrne. In it, a former budget director decreed: “I hereby rule that the governor and staff of the governor’s office are granted exemptions from these State Travel Regulations.”
Instead of addressing the issue, Judge Mary C. Jacobson dismissed the suit in July. She ruled the reporter’s Open Public Records Act request was “overbroad and lacking in specifics and clarity” even though it sought specific records required by state rules.
Donald M. Doherty Jr., the reporter’s attorney, filed the appeal last week asking the higher court to make a decision Jacobson avoided.
“This case will establish whether or not an executive branch employee can exempt the governor from travel regulations,” stated Doherty. “The court did not decide whether or not the defendants’ position regarding the memo was correct, but instead held the request was unclear.”
The full story is now online at http://watchdog.org/170733/christie-travel-records-appeal/.