A New Jersey appeals court has ruled the state must release two confidential state records from a corruption probe involving Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno to New Jersey Watchdog.
The opinion released Thursday by the Appellate Division reverses a trial court decision by Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson last year not to release those records from a state Division of Criminal Justice investigation of alleged pension fraud.
In a 14-page opinion, Justices George S. Leone and Carol E. Higbee rejected Jacobson’s reasons for blocking release of the documents to the investigative news site as an “abuse of discretion.”
“We cannot agree that the fact the investigation concerned possible sensitive issues of public corruption weighs against disclosure,” the ruling stated. “In cases involving allegations of public corruption, transparency and the public’s right to know are particularly important.”
As New Jersey’s second-in-command, Guadagno frequently serves as acting governor when Chris Christie travels outside the state on presidential campaign trips. She is mentioned as a likely Republican candidate for governor in 2017 – and could take the reins earlier if Christie steps down before his term expires.
The alleged $245,000 fraud occurred when Guadagno was Monmouth County sheriff in 2008, the year before she first ran for lieutenant governor as Christie’s running mate.
Guadagno made false and conflicting statements that enabled her chief officer, Michael Donovan, to improperly collect an $85,000 a year pension in addition to his $87,500 salary, as first reported by New Jersey Watchdog in 2010. The story included links to smoking-gun documents, including an internal memo initialed by Guadagno.
In 2011, DCJ began an investigation at the request of a state pension board. But the probe was riddled by a major conflict of interest since Guadagno is a former DCJ deputy director. Christie did not use his constitutional power to appoint a special investigator or independent prosecutor.
The story is online at http://watchdog.org/246882/nj-corruption-probe-records/.