Judge Rules Christie Obeyed Court Order on Document That He Partially Withheld

Mark Lagerkvist | October 8, 2015 | Politics
What’s missing from the list? The names and email addresses for cabinet members, politicians, supporters, PACs, and others are nowhere to be found

A New Jersey judge ruled Wednesday that Gov. Chris Christie obeyed a court order to turn over a public record — even though his office still appears to be withholding part of it. (Disclosure: Investigative reporter Mark Lagerkvist is the plaintiff in Lagerkvist v. Office of the Governor, MER-L-463-15, Mercer County Superior Court.)

In May and again in August, Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson instructed the governor to release a directory of email addresses for “recipients of Gov News email blasts.”

The list — a key component of a publicity strategy that set the stage for Christie’s presidential campaign — was created by the governor’s communications staff of 16 full-time state employees.

But the list Christie provided New Jersey Watchdog last month has only 1,229 names, not the 2,500 described in court papers.

What’s missing? The names and email addresses for cabinet members, politicians, supporters, PACs, and others are nowhere to be found.

In a certification filed with the court, Christie press secretary Kevin Roberts stated the governor released “the most recent list containing the email addresses of all media contacts that receive the Gov News email blasts.” He did not mention other categories of recipients on the list.

Despite the dispute over missing information, Jacobson decided the governor’s office had “satisfactorily responded to the plaintiff’s request” — even though New Jersey Watchdog sought the full list in its public records lawsuit.

The ruling ends a nine-month battle that also included a fight over more than $1 million in American Express bills racked up by state police security teams that have followed Christie on his out-of-state trips.

The Executive Protection Unit has racked up more than $1.3 million in expenses — not including the troopers’ salary and overtime — since Christie took office in 2010. Of that total, more than $1.1 million was spent on AmEx charges for travel.

The EPU travel expenses have increased along with Christie’s political ambitions. Last year, costs totaled $494,420 as the governor traveled outside New Jersey for more than 100 days. That sum is 22 times more than the $21,704 spent in 2009, former Gov. Jon Corzine’s last year in office.

Jacobson denied New Jersey Watchdog’s request for the AmEx records. She based her decision on secret evidence — a confidential sworn statement provided by Capt. Kevin Cowan, head of the EPU.

“He unequivocally swears in that certification that release of the information would increase the risk of harm to the governor,” said the judge.

New Jersey Watchdog’s lawyer was not allowed to view or question that evidence, which made a successful appeal unlikely.

A version of this story has been posted to the New Jersey Watchdog website.