Saturday, February 6, 2016

Bridgegate defendants win access to Christie aides' emails

   Kelly and Baroni - Amy Newman/Kevin R. Wexler/Record staff photographers 
Bridgegate, the political scandal that has dogged and damaged the GOP presidential campaign of NJ Governor Chris Christie is back in the news.

The Record's Peter J. Samson and Paul Berger report today:

A federal judge on Friday gave defense attorneys a powerful tool in the George Washington Bridge lane-closure case: the ability to subpoena emails and other documents withheld by the law firm Governor Christie hired to investigate who closed the lanes and why.

U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton said such power, given to lawyers for Bridget Anne Kelly, a onetime deputy chief of staff to Christie, and Bill Baroni, a former deputy executive director of the Port Authority, “was not a fishing expedition.”

The pair, who both appeared in court Friday, are accused of closing two of three local access lanes to the bridge for five mornings in September 2013 to punish Fort Lee’s mayor for not endorsing Christie’s reelection bid. The closings, which were initially explained as part of a traffic study, caused widespread traffic jams, and the resulting scandal continues to dog Christie’s presidential bid. The trial is scheduled to begin on May 16, but that date is expected to be pushed back.

Christie’s office hired the powerful law firm Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher in January 2014 to look into who was behind the lane closures. The firm’s lawyers were given access to thousands of internal documents from the governor’s office and interviewed more than 70 people. The resulting 334-page report, published in March 2014, blamed Kelly and David Wildstein, a high-ranking Port Authority official with ties to Christie, for shutting the bridge lanes, but it concluded that the governor had no knowledge of the lane closures.

The report also found that although Baroni’s behavior was “concerning,” there was no evidence that he knew the lane closures were politically motivated.

At the time of its release, the report was widely criticized, in particular by Assemblyman John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex, and state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, the leaders of a joint legislative committee that investigated the lane closures, who said the report was lacking in “objectivity and thoroughness.”

Subpoena power

During their own 16-month investigation, federal prosecutors subpoenaed Gibson Dunn for relevant documents that were compiled as part of the report. Defense lawyers for Kelly and Baroni say that prosecutors did not sufficiently challenge Gibson Dunn when the firm redacted and withheld many documents.

With the judge’s ruling Friday, attorneys now have subpoena power to force Gibson Dunn to turn over those documents, including previously withheld emails sent between key Christie allies during the week of the lane closures.

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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Acting NJ Attorney General leaving for Rutgers position

Eric Strauss of NJBIZ reports this afternoon that:

New Jersey's longtime acting attorney general, John J. Hoffman, is headed to the world of academia.
Hoffman, who has served as acting attorney general since June 2013, has been named Rutgers University’s senior vice president and general counsel, effective March 14, the college announced in a news release Thursday.
“I am deeply impressed by John’s intelligence and legal acumen, the wide range of statutory and regulatory issues he has handled, and his record of excellence in state and federal service,” Rutgers President Robert Barchi said in a prepared statement. “I am eager to bring his leadership and expertise to Rutgers.”
Hoffman replaces Monica C. Barrett, formerly the interim senior vice president and general counsel. She left Rutgers for a New York law firm as of Jan. 1.
“After nearly 20 years of state and federal government service, I am thrilled to be joining this iconic institution that has for centuries trained our leaders of tomorrow,” Hoffman said in a statement. “I strongly believe in Rutgers’ ever-expanding mission, as well as the dynamic leadership role that it plays within the state, and I look forward to joining President Barchi and his exceptional team.”
Before becoming acting attorney general, Hoffman was executive assistant attorney general under Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa. He has also worked in the state comptroller’s office, as well as at the U.S. Department of Justice and as an assistant U.S. attorney.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

RGGI: The New Jersey pollution debate that refuses to die

The multi-state energy compact with the friendly sounding name of RGGI (pronounced Reggie) has morphed into a decidedly unfriendly tug of war between New Jersey Democrats and Republicans that goes on and on and on.

Under the Democratic administration of former Gov. Jon Corzine, RGGI was hailed as an innovative way to cut carbon emissions from energy plants and simultaneously generate money to support a variety of alternative energy investments and energy conservation projects.

Under the Republican administration of Gov.Chris Christie, RGGI was re-cast as a villain out to jack up energy costs, mug big industrial power users, and not accomplishment much for the environment in the process.

NJ Spotlight's Tom Johnson, who has been chronicling every RGGI push and pull, brings us up to date on NJDEP's reaction to the Legislature's latest attempt to get RGGI back in the game.

DEP says 'no way' to rejoining RGGI; Dispute may head to court--again

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

If Pines leader is axed in a forest, does it make a sound?

If the axed is the chairman of the New Jersey Pinelands Commission and the woodsman delivering the chop is Gov. Chris Christie, how could it not?


Christie replaces Pinelands chairman
In the same week that a controversial gas pipeline through 22 miles of the Pine Barrens was approved by state regulators, Gov. Chris Christie has removed the chairman of the Pinelands Commission who opposed the project.

Ousted Pinelands Commission Chairman Speaks Out
Following his sudden replacement as head of the Pinelands Commission last week, Mark Lohbauer won’t rule out the possibility that his vote against a controversial gas pipeline played a role in his downfall. Lohbauer, who will continue with the Commission under its new chairman Sean Earlen, told PolitickerNJ that the decision from the governor’s office caught him off guard.

Gov. Christie Fires Pinelands Commissioner Chairman Lohbauer
Bridgegate in the Pines, Part Deux: Gov. Christie Fires Pinelands Commissioner Chairman Lohbauer. Decision Comes Same Week as Legal Suit Against Pinelands Commission for SJ Gas Pipeline Decision and BPU Approval of NJ Natural Gas Pipeline

 Pinelands Chair Mark Lohbauer and commissioner Candace Ashmun confer at earlier meeting- Inquirer

Higher lead levels for kids in 11 NJ cities than in Flint

Activists and State Senator Shirley Turner report on kids' lead levels in 11 NJ communities

"Young children in 11 cities and two counties in New Jersey have higher levels of lead in their blood than children in Flint, Michigan, where a water contamination crisis has grabbed national attention."

That's what Michael Symons reported yesterday for Gannett after attending a news conference in Trenton where activists identified the  localities as Irvington, Trenton, Newark, Paterson, Plainfield, Jersey City, Elizabeth, Atlantic City, New Brunswick and Passaic, plus Cumberland and Salem counties.

"There were more than 3,000 new cases in New Jersey of children under 6 with elevated lead levels in 2015, bringing the total to around 225,000 since 2000, said Elyse Pivnick, director of environmental health for Isles Inc. New Jersey’s exposure is linked to lead paint in homes, not water supplies.

“Because of Flint, Michigan, most of the world now knows lead in water can poison children,” Pivnick said. “The deplorable water scandal is an important story, but it is just as tragic and alarming that thousands of children in New Jersey continue to be exposed to lead year after year.”

Lawmakers and advocacy groups have a four-part plan, launched Monday, to get state officials to do more about lead poisoning of children, Symons wrote:

1. Get the attention of a public startled by Flint

Friday, January 29, 2016

Did Philadelphia woman's smart meter make her sick?

"The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission on Thursday cracked open the door for opponents of the state's compulsory smart-meter deployment policy, allowing a hearing on a customer's complaint that the installation of a wireless meter outside her bedroom caused her to get sick."

The Philadelphia Inquirer's Andrew Maykuth reports:

In a 4-1 vote, the PUC rejected Peco Energy Co.'s petition to prevent an administrative law judge from hearing the health complaints of Susan Kreider, a registered nurse who said she suffered "deleterious health effects" after Peco installed the new meter on her Germantown home in 2013.

The commission has previously declined to hear scores of complaints from smart-meter opponents, who object to the devices on privacy, safety, or health grounds. Utilities say they are required to install the meters to comply with Act 129, a 2008 energy-conservation law that ordered all Pennsylvania utilities to deploy the devices.

Kreider's complaint was different, the PUC said, because she said she could produce medical documentation showing that the electromagnetic radiation from the meter caused her to get sick. The meter violates the state's public utility code requiring utilities to provide "safe and reasonable" service, she has maintained.

"To ignore claims relating to the safety of smart meters would be an abdication of our duties and responsibilities under . . . the code," the PUC said in its order Thursday.

Read the full story here

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Is your construction permit expiring in New Jersey?

In the midst of the economic recession, the New Jersey State Legislature, in 2008, recognized that permits for a multitude of developments would expire before the projects could find the necessary construction financing. Lawmakers passed the Permit Extension Act (PEA) to toll the expiration of various approvals necessary for development through 2012. Additional extensions were approved in 2012 and in 2014.      

A bill to grant an additional extension failed in the recently ended legislative session, prompting Gibbons attorneys Howard D. Geneslaw and Andrew J. Camelotto to publish
the alert below.

No Further Extensions of New Jersey’s Permit Extension Act

The state legislature took no action to further extend New Jersey’s Permit Extension Act (“PEA”) during the recently concluded legislative session, which means that permits and approvals extended by the PEA’s tolling period either have expired or will expire soon. Pursuant to the terms of the act, the expiration date for most approvals covered by the PEA are tolled through June 30, 2016, with certain approvals expiring before that date, making right now the time to evaluate projects approaching construction to determine which existing approvals were extended by the PEA, the exact expiration date of such approvals, and whether further extensions are available under other laws. After such an evaluation, developers and project managers can then determine whether approval rights can be fully vested prior to their expiration date and, if not, whether an extension, amendment, or renewal of the approval is required.
The PEA was initially enacted in 2008 in response to “the crisis in the real estate finance sector of the economy.” The purpose of the PEA was to toll the expiration of various approvals necessary for development through 2012. The PEA was later amended in 2012 and again in 2014, due to the then “current national recession,” extending the tolling of those approvals until December 31, 2015. The PEA provides for the tolling of any “approval,” as defined in the statute, which is or was in existence during the extension period (January 1, 2007 through December 31, 2015). Most subdivision, site plan, and variance approvals granted pursuant to the Municipal Land Use Law are encompassed within covered “approvals,” as are many approvals granted by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), New Jersey Meadowlands Commission (NJMC), New Jersey Pinelands Commission, and various other state agencies. Caution, however: there are important exceptions to the general rule above, and some permits and approvals are expressly excluded from the tolling which the PEA provides.
Given that the PEA has not been extended further, those with existing approvals tolled by the PEA should evaluate them now, determine their present status, and whether the project can move to construction before the approvals expire. If financing is an issue, there are various grant, loan, and other incentive programs which should be explored. If there are reasons why the project may not move forward before the expiration of an approval, other methods of extension could be available and should be investigated. This could be particularly important in situations where changes have occurred in applicable regulations, since extensions allow an applicant to rely on the regulations in effect when the original approval was obtained, while new applications to replace expired approvals must comply with the new regulations now in effect. Please contact Howard D. Geneslaw or Andrew J. Camelotto if you have a project for which you would like this analysis performed.
Howard D. Geneslaw is a Director in the Gibbons Real Property & Environmental Department. Andrew J. Camelotto, an Associate in the Gibbons Real Property & Environmental Department, co-authored this post.

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Monday, January 25, 2016

In Jersey, The Wiz feels The Burn and takes a daring step

Weeks ago, when New Jersey Assemblyman John Wisniewski announced his allegiance to presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, the collective response of party pros likely was: Say Wha?

The Middlesex County attorney is the mild-mannered, thoughtful (very un-Jersey-like) liberal Democrat who enjoyed multiple national appearances on the Rachel Maddow Show when Bridgegate was the rage.

He earned the spot by chairing the joint legislative committee that was investigating the role of the Governor's office in the bridge lane shutdown and subsequent cover up.

The exposure lead to speculation that Wisniewski (who under media attention had morphed into The Wiz) was entertaining thoughts of a race for Governor in 2017. But the story ran out of gas when the U.S. Attorney asked all other investigations but his own to cease.

The Wiz went back to the far less media-worthy job of running the Assembly Transportation Committee. And then along came the most improbable ticket back to the limelight--Bernie Sanders. 

While Bernie's growing poll blips were still relatively unrecognized, the Wiz announced he would chair New Jersey for Bernie Sanders 2016 committee which will host it's kickoff event on Wednesday night in Sayreville.  

Let us direct you at this point to the brightly written piece by the anonymous 'PolitickerNJ Editor' that appeared last week.

The Smartest Man in New Jersey Politics (Today)

Here's a taste:
But Wisniewski – two decades in the legislature now and waddling in the playpen of second banana contenders for the 2017 Democratic nomination for governor – needed to make something happen to extend that narrative of righteous progressive paladin he forged – justly – when Bridgegate made him the state’s leading counterweight to Republican Gov. Chris Christie.
So while the rest of the Democratic Party establishment zigged (gloomily and in slow motion) into the camp of Hillary Clinton, Wiz zagged – the only one in the state to do so, eight years after several handfuls of Democrats opted for Barack Obama over Clinton in the 2008 Democratic Primary. Of course, Wisniewski wasn’t one of them. He was firmly – albeit quietly – in the Clinton camp back then.
A year later, he royally irritated that tiny inner circle of impassioned Jon Corzine supporters when he bucked the governor on asset monetization and ever after earned their scorn – even in the furnaces of Bridgegate when the assemblyman stalked Christie like a hard-boiled detective in a Mickey Spillane novel.

Politicker NJ's editor suggests that the Wiz's chess move might constitute a "grand Machiavellian machination,' but it also might be driven by an equally strong streak of idealism.

It likely did not take Bridgegate to convince Wisniewski that old-style, play-to-pay politics has done serious damage to the country and its political system. He might think that Hillary Clinton is not that much different than Donald Trump when it comes to Wall Street and income inequity--or to getting a national airline to create a new route to your vacation home town.

Like Bridgegate, we'll have to wait and see how it all plays out. It may be instructive. It certainly will be entertaining. Politics remains New Jersey's favorite spectator sport.

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NJ Senate Environment Committee meets today

Since there has been no notice of cancellation as of 9 a.m., we assume that the Senate Environment and Energy Committee will meet, as scheduled, at 10 a.m. today in Room 10 of the State House Annex in Trenton.

Here's the committee's agenda:

The committee will discuss the formation, organization, process, and timetable for the stakeholder group that will submit recommendations on proposed legislation regarding public access to beaches, tidal waterways, and their adjacent shorelines.  

Bills for consideration:

S-765  Smith, B. (D-17)
Requires, after study, DEP to adopt total maximum daily loads for Barnegat Bay ecosystem, and requires DEP to adopt nutrient standards for NJ marine waters.
     Jan 25, 2016   – Posted: Senate Environment and Energy

S-766  Smith, B. (D-17); Greenstein, L.R. (D-14)
Creates Office of Clean Energy in BPU.
     Jan 25, 2016   – Posted: Senate Environment and Energy

S-769  Smith, B. (D-17); Greenstein, L.R. (D-14)
Requires environmental sustainability plan for State House Complex.
     Jan 25, 2016   – Posted: Senate Environment and Energy

S-969  Smith, B. (D-17)
Implements 2014 constitutional dedication of CBT revenues for certain environmental purposes; revises State's open space, farmland, and historic preservation programs.
     Jan 25, 2016   – Posted: Senate Environment and Energy

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