Thursday, February 22, 2007

And Now, So Is the Governor!

We posted a few days ago that the Legislative Leadership was trying to sidestep a basic question involved in the Budget imbroglio -- transparency on what they have done. Now, Governor Corzine has stepped up to take a swing at the budget issue, but conveniently forgets that he allowed it all to happen last year when he signed the budget bill without redlining out what he didn't think was appropriate to approve. It's a "news update" today by Bob Schwaneberg of the Star-Ledger.

Gov. Jon Corzine today called on lawmakers to "put an end to the midnight spending sprees" and adopt a more "open" process of adopting state budgets.

"We have tough choices coming,'' Corzine said, "and the public needs to trust we are working for them - not ourselves, not our friend, not anyone else."

Corzine said he is sending a letter to the Democratic leaders of both houses "outlining further steps to build accountability." They include deadlines so both the public and governor will have time to review the budget before it is finally passed.

If adopted, those reforms would radically change past patterns of late-night budget sessions in which lawmakers decorate the proverbial "Christmas tree" with hundreds of millions of dollars of pet projects.

Not only was his left foot out of the box on this one, he popped up to short!

Please check with your new Chief Counsel, Governor. He'll explain to you that you have this power to redline appropriations from the budget that you don't like. You could have done that last year, and you chose NOT to demur, probably for purely political reasons. So, what are you talking about, chiding the legislature for sending you all the reportedly personal pocket-loading add-ons? You approved them when you signed the budget!

There are only two possible conclusions one can arrive at about that -- the Governor either knew exactly what he was signing, or he got rolled!

The only difference between what Corzine did, and what his immediate predecessor, Senate President and Acting Governor Codey did the year before, was that Codey had two complete sets of staff to warn him about what was going on -- the Senate staff and the Governor's staff, while Corzine only had the Governor's staff to cue him in. And they both opened up the till.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Freedom for Kareem

(Update 2/22: Kareem sentenced, below)

(Update 2/26: Post on Volokh Conspiracy, below)

Just in case you were wondering about the Freedom For Kareem logo on the sidebar of the website, Michelle Malkin had a current post up about it that explains just who this incredibly courageous young man is, and what he stands for. She has also posted a link to an Op-Ed that appeared today in the Washington Post, defending and speaking up for Kareem. Please read it and consider the fate of this brave young man.

He is Abdelkareem Nabil Soliman. His country of Egypt and his family have turned on him for standing up for a fundamental freedom that too many of us have come to take for granted in the 230 + years since we declared our nation's independence. He has freely expressed his views on his blog, ones that have been critical of the Egyptian government, and of radical Islam. As a result he was expelled from his University, has received death threats, and his family have disowned him. And now he is to be jailed.

Such courage cannot be permitted to leave us speechless.

In a twist of fate, Kareem is currently scheduled to be sentenced tomorrow, February 22nd, for to up to 11 years in prison for simply exercising his God-given right of free speech. The date is, of course, also the actual anniversary of the birth of George Washington, the man who led us to victory in our revolutionary war for independence, and for political freedom, in which we declared to the world that governmental power resided in the people, and that individual liberty was the touchstone of that freedom.

Therefore, in the spirit of Tom Paine, we will not be summer soldiers in the fight for freedom of expression.

Please also consider finding a way to express your views on behalf of Kareem, whether through a communication to the State Department, or some other way. There is one recent indication that American diplomatic pressure can indeed have an effect with the Egyptian government.

Michelle also posted the following information on her site:

Contact the State Department:

Public Communication Line

Office of Public Liaison
Bureau of Public Affairs
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW, Room 2206
Washington, DC 20520-2204

Update: 2/22: Reuters is reporting that Egyptian blogger Kareem was sentenced to four years in jail. In a story posted by reporter Alaa Shahine, it was reported that Kareem was found guilty of insulting Islam and the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak through eight internet postings on his blog. Here are a few grafs from the story. Please, read the whole thing.

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt (Reuters) - An Alexandria court convicted an Egyptian blogger on Thursday for insulting both Islam and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and sentenced him to four years in jail over his writings on the Internet.

Abdel Karim Suleiman, a 22-year-old former law student who has been in custody since November, was the first blogger to stand trial in Egypt for his Internet writings. He was convicted in connection with eight articles he wrote since 2004.

Rights groups and opposition bloggers have watched Suleiman's case closely, and said they feared a conviction could set a legal precedent limiting Internet freedom in Egypt, the Arab world's most populous country.

. . .

Suleiman, a Muslim and a liberal, has not denied writing the articles but said they merely represented his own views. His lawyers said they planned to appeal the verdict, and one member of the defense team described the trial as unfair.

One of Suleiman's articles said that al-Azhar in Cairo, one of the most prominent seats of Sunni Muslim learning, was promoting extreme ideas. Another article, headlined "The Naked Truth of Islam as I Saw it", accused Muslims of savagery during clashes between Muslims and Christians in Alexandria in 2005.

He has also described some of the companions of the Muslim prophet Muhammad as "terrorists", and has likened Mubarak to dictatorial pharaohs who ruled ancient Egypt.

(Update 2/26:) Ilya Somin, at the Volokh Conspiracy links to Sandmonkey's take on PajamasMedia, and notes the irony in the "authorian" charge related to Mubarak -- insulting the President. Somin also briefly discusses the broader implications of the publicity associated with this case for the future.

Free Kareem.

Monday, February 19, 2007

A Disdain For Process?
Senate President Codey and the Budget Indagation

As noted earlier, Senator Richard Codey, D-West Orange, is obviously feeling a dose of tension occasioned by the roiling issues associated with budget abuse within the New Jersey legislature. Moreover, it is focused particularly in the upper house, over which he has been exclusively presiding since January of 2004. And for much of that time -- the end of the day on November 15, 2004 until January 17, 2006 -- he was the Acting Governor of the State, with all of the staff resources available to him at that level, as well as his Senate staff resources.

Funny, isn't it that no one ever said, "Hey, does this look a little odd to you . . . ?"

Control is a big thing with Legislators, especially those in leadership. When things go south, they know they risk being asked, “What did you do wrong.” How did you allow this to happen? Codey has nurtured a reservoir of good will as the nice guy over time, but that can drain very quickly in an atmosphere rife with allegations of fiscal malfeasance.

So he is understandably tense. Just remember, he picked his leadership team, including the former Chair of both the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee, and the Joint Budget Oversight Committee, Senator Wayne Bryant of Lawnside. As noted in a hard-hitting Trentonian column by Charlie Webster late last September, Bryant had a history of putting the touch on state resources for his own benefit.

The escalating pursuit of the New Jersey legislature’s fiscal actions, with swirling allegations of legislators helping themselves to substantial sums from the public till, clearly has put a very uncomfortable light on Codey's stewardship. He does not want to cave in to Republican demands for rule changes in the upper house. The partisan split in the Senate (22-18) is uncomfortably close, and there is an election this year. In this testy atmosphere, he has switched from blaming it on the media, to coining a new phrase “certain politicians” to disdainfully describe those who are pointing to the failures and misappropriations that have reportedly occurred within his leadership team.

Imagine, a politician calling someone a politician! Wow! Could it get any worse than that?

Three recent actions on the part of the Senate President, however, have cast his approach in a peculiar light. And one could conclude that each one of them arguably demonstrates a bit of disdain for process.

The first is that for the past few years he and Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts have sidelined the Legislative Services Commission (LSC), the bipartisan Commission that is supposed to oversee the Office of Legislative Services (OLS). Official legislative records show that the Commission has not been meeting as required by law. Roberts is the Chair of that Commission, so he bears the primary responsibility for the failure, but Codey is a member, and the Senate President.

One word from him, and the Commission would have quickly gathered in Room 103!

Last week, all eight Republican members of the 16 member Commission signed on to a letter to call a meeting of the LSC. The signature assent of only one Democrat would have immediately caused the scheduling of a special meeting of the Commission. Codey missed an opportunity to demonstrate real leadership and a recommitment to respect for the legislative process by refusing to be that man. Yet, he put out a phony statement asserting that he and Roberts would petition the court to allow a briefing of the Commission.

Secondly, in the midst of the dust up over a laughable claim of attorney-client privilege and the further wasting of taxpayer resources just to try to frustrate a federal criminal investigation, Codey and Roberts’ prior joint press release that said in part:

What apparently is in dispute is a narrow issue that the Office of Legislative Services (OLS) believes to be of constitutional significance and ultimately it will be up to the court to decide the matter.

Well . . . why? Why does it seem that the Democrat party is always so eager to turn over public policy questions to courts to decide? Why should the most democratic of our institutions so quickly differ to the least democratic body to resolve a process question?

Why could the Senate President not instead have shown a little political moxie, and told Senator Bryant that, insofar as the Senate is concerned, Bryant was not going to be permitted to further compromise its integrity, and that if he wanted to pursue some quixotic, if not desperate maneuver by asserting attorney-client privilege over budget committee papers that for the most part are not even drafted by attorneys, that he was free to do so on his own, but that the Senate leadership was not going to be further coaxed into acting as his enabler?

And the third strike is his latest action, outlined in a Mitch Maddux story in the Record on Sunday, in which Codey says he will use his prerogative as Senate President to prevent last second additions to the state budget. In a Press Release issued on Friday, after federal grand Jury subpoenas rained on the partisan legislative offices, Minority Leader Senator Leonard Lance (R-Hunterdon) took the occasion to fire off a Release calling for

total transparency with regard to legislative additions to the annual state budget. The sponsor of each expenditure must be identified and the legislative addition must have a clearly stated public purpose.

Codey, obviously unwilling to reform the process in this way, simply announced that he will push through a Rule change that will prevent last second submission of expenditure changes in the budget. Sounds okay as far as it goes.

But the description of his proposal is very odd, and in some respects fails to address real transparency, which he insisted in the story was his primary concern. As stated therein,
Codey said his rule change -- which he has the power to invoke without the consent of the state Senate -- will require that any expenditures added to the governor's proposed budget be submitted 10 to 14 days before lawmakers vote on the package. The expenditures will then be listed for public inspection and discussed before the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.

Well, is it 10 or is it 14? Who are they required to be submitted to to meet that timeline?

How likely is it that the members of the Senate will give the Senate President power to invoke a Rule without their consent? And what does that mean? What if he doesn’t invoke the rule? Would we then witness the usual budget free-for-all?

And what does it mean that the “expenditures will then be listed for public inspection” – how close to the vote? Two hours? One day? Three days? A week?

Finally, he says nothing about identifying the expenditure to the legislator, as Senator Lance’s proposal would require. That is what transparency is all about. No one can put an anonymous bill in the hopper today, so why not require any expenditure proposal to be identified with its proponent?

Codey is reeling from an accommodation made long ago in having put the wrong person in charge of budget and appropriations. And for the past three years the budget has been a mess.

Just as an example, during the time that he was both the acting Governor and Senate President, last-second expenditures in the new state budget, passed July 1, 2005, were added for such ”deserving” entities as $2 million dollars for a public municipal parking garage up in Hudson County (West New York), and an unexplained quarter of a million dollar unencumbered grant -- $250,000.00 to Lambertville, a town whose “up for election” Mayor just happened to be the spouse of former Acting Governor Codey’s then Deputy Chief of Staff.

As they say, "The apple never falls far from the tree." Or, is it, "Where there's smoke . . ."

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

A New Definition for Chutzpah, Trenton Style?

(Correction below)
A key portion of the Trenton OLS mystery issue we explored yesterday has now been outed!

Senator Wayne Bryant, it seems, was the legislator who was insisting on pursuing a claim of attorney-client privilege through the Office of Legislative Services (OLS) over papers and records generated during his tenure as the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He did so in order to quash at least a portion of a federal criminal subpoena. And he put the touch on the taxpayers again to pay for his attorney to pursue that claim. The purpose of the claim was to prevent investigators from gathering evidence of what they reportedly believe were his efforts to steer taxpayer money into his own pockets.

Meanwhile, on Friday, broad ranging federal subpoenas, as noted by Tom Hester of the AP in a story printed in the Record were served to partisan legislative offices in Trenton, as well as key leadership district offices on both sides of the aisle. A Philadelphia Inquirer story by Elisa Ung laid out details of interviews between investigators and legislators, and points to fresh indications of what the feds are looking at, particularly in their probe of Senator Wayne Bryant.

According to the Star Ledger, the subpoenas covered budget periods going back to 2004. As Ledger staff reporters Ted Sherman and Jeff Whelan put it:

Yesterday's subpoenas requested documents and communications from 2004 to present -- including e-mails, letters, memos and faxes -- regarding "property-tax assistance and community development grants and any other grants or assistance, commonly referred to as Christmas tree items," according to three legislative sources who saw them.

Three of the four partisan offices issued press statements late Friday. However, the office of Senator Richard Codey, the Senate President, did not.

But in an interview with Senate President Richard Codey, (D-West Orange) for his On The Record show that will be airing on New Jersey Network (NJN) this Sunday, Michael Arons and Codey managed to perform a tandem blurt, finally laying out the fact that it was none other than Senator Wayne Bryant, reportedly a prime target of the federal probe, who apparently went to OLS and asserted "attorney-client privilege" as to papers and records regarding budget matters from back when he was the Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

In an exclusive Asbury Park Press story written by Mike Symons of the Gannett State Bureau, the conversation during the yet-to-be-aired interview is detailed as follows:

Codey, D—Essex, said in an interview with NJN for its Sunday "On the Record" program that legislative offices and the state Department of the Treasury were asked months ago by the U.S. Attorney's Office for documents and complied.

"And in addition to that, OLS has complied completely what they were asked of, except this one singular issue on one singular legislator who has invoked attorney-client privilege," Codey said.

In his follow-up question, NJN's Michael Aron said, "The legislator, we know, is Wayne Bryant."

"Well, OK," Codey said, before saying it's his understanding it is the lawmaker who invoked the privilege.

"You read the papers and listen to certain politicians, it's about some big conspiracy. Absolutely not," Codey said.


So, back when the initial set of federal subpoenas hit the Legislature, this suggests that Senator Wayne Bryant went to Albert Porroni, Chief Counsel of the Office of Legislative Services (OLS), and asserted the claim of attorney-client privilege. Then, either Albert or Albert and Senator Bryant, took the issue and put into the lap of Senate President Codey and/or Wayne’s legislative district running mate, Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts.

As far as we know, this matter was kept secret from the “not so prying eyes” of the bipartisan Legislative Services Commission (LSC), which by law oversees OLS. At some point, a decision was made (and we do not yet know by whom) to have OLS open the till and spend taxpayer funds to hire an outside attorney, Edward Dauber, at $275 - $300.00 an hour to defend Senator Bryant’s assertion of attorney-client privilege, all in an effort to quash at least portions of the criminal federal subpoena -- the key portions, one would certainly think.

That's because Senator Bryant is reportedly being investigated for using his position as the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee to steer state budget money for his personal benefit, and for the benefit others, both business and family, who the Senator is quite close to.

Months ago, for example, the federal monitor of UMDNJ discovered that Bryant helped UMDNJ get substantial state budget funds, and they generously gave him what was reportedly a “no work” job for $35,000.00 a year, at an office on the Stratford campus of UMDNJ, a Newark-based, state-funded medical teaching school and hospital. As was noted by David Kocieniewski writing for the New York Times at the time, the federal monitor concluded that the job was essentially for Bryant to lobby himself. It was one of several "teaching" jobs he held.

Hester’s AP story about the subpoenas in the Record described it this way:

In September, a federal monitor asked by the U.S. attorney to review activities at UMDNJ issued a report stating Bryant received a no-work job at the school while helping to steer state funding to it through his role as Senate budget chairman.

After that report, state and federal authorities subpoenaed records about Bryant from Gloucester County and Rutgers University -- where Bryant also held jobs -- and the state Legislature. Bryant later resigned from his seat as influential Senate budget chairman.

Those posts helped Bryant to boost his state pension credits. In fact, Dunstan McNichol recently reported in the Star Ledger that Bryant retired last month from the State, and began drawing his $83,696.00 a year pension, as well as retiring from his law firm. In case you were wondering, an obscure state law passed many years ago allows him to be retired from state service and draw a full pension, but still be eligible to serve in the Legislature and draw his $40,000.00 $49,000.00 a year salary. (Correction)


While chairing appropriations, he also reportedly put money in the budget that permitted his now former law firm to do redevelopment legal work in Camden, and other legal work in his home town of Lawnside, paid for with those funds. The rain-maker just announced his retirement from the firm to be able to spend more quality time with his family. It has been widely reported as well that a substantial number of the members of his family also hold government payroll positions in and around the Camden area.


But, let’s get back to the story. Think about this for a second . . .

Someone signed off on Senator Wayne Bryant's request to have an outside big-gun attorney hired at taxpayer expense to defend him from having to comply with key portions of a federal subpoena in a federal criminal investigation into allegations that he had previously steered substantial amounts of public money to his personal benefit.

And, after admitting that this is essentially what happened, Senator Codey also says:
"You read the papers and listen to certain politicians, it's about some big conspiracy. Absolutely not," Codey said.

No? Please tell us more, Senator Codey. Who did approve that arrangement? You have our undivided attention.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

A Modern Day Battle Brews in Trenton

The burbling kerfuffle currently stewing in Trenton about the subpoena-suppressing actions initiated by the Office of Legislative Services (OLS), is emerging as a stand-alone political roadside attraction. Borne of the investigation by the United States Attorney’s Office into possible state budget-related criminal behavior on the part of certain New Jersey State legislators, this fight now appears to be walking, and not talking, all on its own.

Secrecy, money and power always rightly trigger intense public curiosity, and this one is clearly no different. Very few, it seems, bought the legislative leadership’s opening gambit -- just let the court decide. "Nuts," everyone seemed to say in unison!

As a result, light has been cast unexpectedly on an ordinarily little-noticed New Jersey legislative commission, the venerable and bi-partisan Legislative Services Commission (LSC). It is the one that, as described in Fitzgerald’s Legislative Manual, “supervises the operations of the Office of Legislative Services.”

An emerging picture of the operation of the Commission, however, is not too pretty. Supervision is apparently not even on their agenda. In fact, records show the Commission rarely complies with a statutory obligation to meet. It has no agenda. (See Update, 02/19, below)

LSC is currently chaired by Assemblyman, and current Speaker, Joe Roberts, a Democrat from Camden, who is as well, the 5th Legislative District running mate of Senator Wayne Bryant of Lawnside. You’ll recall numerous reports of Bryant’s personal fiscal shenanigans as the former Chair of the Appropriations Committee, including having allegedly prompted the creation of a no-show job for himself at the University of Medicine and Dentistry (UMDNJ). These actions were widely reported to have inspired the curiosity of federal investigators, and to have thereby instigated a growing scope to the federal probe into possible legislative malfeasance.

The background to the investigation was concisely summed up in a current Mitch Maddux Record story yesterday:

Federal prosecutors are investigating state Sen. Wayne Bryant, D-Camden, and examining his actions as the chairman of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, one of the most powerful posts in Trenton.

The probe now appears to be looking beyond Bryant and focuses, in part, on grants and money for programs that are added in the 11th hour of budget negotiations.

Late last year, the U.S. Attorney's Office subpoenaed OLS, seeking a wide range of budget documents. The move suggested that the investigation was broadening beyond Bryant's job at the University of Medicine and Dentistry and into budget-related practices during his tenure as committee chairman.

Budget records and other documents have been turned over to the federal authorities, several legislative sources said Monday, speaking on condition of anonymity. OLS officials, however, are arguing that internal memos from lawmakers fall under an attorney-client privilege and should not be disclosed, those sources said.

In an exclusive Courier Post story, Gregory Volpe noted that OLS honcho and Legislative Counsel, Albert Porroni, finalized the hiring of an outside counsel on January 18th of this year to challenge some undefined aspect of the subpoenas the feds dropped on the Legislature a few months back. According to a joint statement by LSC member Senate President Richard Codey, Democrat of Essex, and Speaker Roberts, it was Porroni who drew their attention to the legal issue.

Codey and Roberts have been urging calm, and just letting the court decide, but not explaining at all why undefined issues regarding legislators' privileges and immunities, and the scope of investigative power into the legislature should be resolved without an opportunity for the legislators themselves to know what is being done in their names.

The Assembly Republicans, therefore, unanimously notified the court through counsel that they had played no part in initiating leaderships’ actions, and began publicly waiving any attorney-client privilege as to them. The indeterminate issue was reportedly briefed and argued yesterday before Federal Judge Mary Cooper, and all parties are now under a strict gag order.

But exactly how or when Porroni may have flagged the issue is currently unknown outside of the apparently tight-knit circle of persons who were involved in ultimately deciding to furtively bring outside counsel Edward Dauber aboard, and handing him a healthy dose of taxpayer money to help fight a portion of the U.S. Attorney’s subpoena in the criminal investigation. One thing that seems clear now is that LSC should have been involved in oversight from the beginning, but it apparently played no role at all.

The LSC Chairman, meanwhile, is responsible by law for calling quarterly and organizational meetings, N.J.S.A. 52:11-56(c), and at first, the Assembly Republicans demanded the convening of an emergency meeting of the LSC to air matters. The Democrats quickly nixed that idea. But that didn’t stop the Republicans. They duly noted that the statute above also specifies that nine members can submit a request in writing for a “special meeting” which then must be held. So all eight Republican members signed onto a letter and requested one Democrat to join them in pursuit of that procedure -- apparently unsuccessfully -- in an effort to force a showdown with Senate President Codey and Speaker Roberts over the hiring and actions of Dauber.

Though they failed to persuade any of the Democrats to join with them in forcing the convening of a meeting, the intense pressure did coerce a public relations reaction, because Codey and Roberts have now called for their hired counsel to petition the federal court, as reported in today’s Star Ledger, to allow the briefing of the other members of the Legislative Services Commission on the litigation.

The actions of Codey and Roberts seem disingenuous at best. They were the ones who kept the matter from the LSC in the first place, and permitted, or more likely, ordered Porroni to hire the counsel to secretly intervene in the federal probe. So their reported “complaints” now seem hollow, particularly since they are still actively blocking the convening of a meeting of the LSC to discuss why the issue was not initially referred to the Commission, and exactly how the outside counsel was hired. The Republicans have responded by demanding once again for a meeting of the LSC to air how this all "went down."

Those issues are presumably not the subject of the gag order, so the refusal by Codey and Roberts accordingly to allow such a meeting, indicates that they hope to keep looking for ways to slip back behind the skirts of Judge Cooper’s gag order.

LSC is supposed to be a purely bipartisan commission, with 16 members that by law oversee the Office of Legislative Services (OLS). Senator Leonard Lance, Republican of Hunterdon is the Vice-Chairman of LSC, and the other extant members of LSC are posted on the Legislature’s website.

The hiring of an outside counsel by OLS to challenge some as yet vague aspect of the subpoenas issued by the U.S. Attorney, has surely launched this fierce and coordinated partisan pushback by the Republican minority in both houses of the state’s legislature. That has sent other Democrat members of the obscure body quickly scurrying for cover, and certain support staff in the central office of OLS stonewalling on providing even the most basic public information.

According to details supplied in two telephone calls yesterday by the helpful folks over at the general legislative information line at 609-292-4840, the actual meetings of the LSC have been very few and far between over the past few years. There was, however, a recent meeting of LSC a little over a month ago, on January 9th. The meeting notice did not state the purpose or agenda, just time and location. According to Republican members of the LSC who attended that meeting, there was no mention of the hiring of Dauber, and no mention of an intention to fight any portion of the federal subpoena.

As per Legislative staff, the attendees at that meeting included: Senators Bucco, Codey (telephonically), Kenny (telephonically), and Lance. Assembly members present included Bateman, Biondi, Blee, Burzichelli, DeCroce, Quigley, Roberts, & Watson-Coleman (All present)

Absent from the meeting, therefore, were Senators Singer, Littell & Gill. There is one Democrat senate vacancy on LSC.

The last official meeting of LSC prior to that meeting, according to the folks at the legislative information hotline, was back on October 25, 2004, nearly two and a half years ago! A meeting scheduled for September 27th that year was cancelled, and the October meeting was the only meeting held in 2004. If those official records are correct, that means there were no meetings of the LSC held during calendar years 2005 and 2006.

By law, however, the LSC is required to hold at least one such meeting each and every calendar quarter, and further, to hold at least one reorganization meeting near the beginning of each even-numbered year. New Jersey holds its state legislative elections in the fall of the odd-numbered years, and so reorganization of the Commission after the newly elected or re-elected members are sworn in every other January, makes sense. They serve in that capacity as members for the duration of the two-year legislative session.

So legislative information hotline records indicate that at least eight calendar quarterly meetings were skipped, all required to have been held by law. And the reorganization meetings that should have been held at the beginning of both 2004 and 2006 were passed over as well.

The central offices of OLS were also contacted to verify that information earlier yesterday. At first, a staff employee confirmed over the phone that a meeting of the LSC was held on January 9th of this year, and she also confirmed that a meeting scheduled for December 4th had been cancelled, thus confirming that there was no meeting of the Commission during the fourth quarter of 2006. She also stated that some initial information given by the information line about a meeting scheduled for October, was erroneous. When called back, the information line staffer verified that there was no October meeting and that official computer records showed that there were no LSC meetings held between October 25, 2004 and January 9, 2007.

Thereafter, a staff employee from the central OLS office returned a call request for the meeting dates, and stated that, as per “the attorneys,” at OLS, no further information could be obtained by the caller without the formal written submission of an Open Public Meetings Act (OPRA) request – including the necessity of filing a written request for the mere confirmation of past meeting dates! That is stonewalling.

Back on the Fight Front

By late yesterday afternoon, Senator Codey and Speaker Roberts were offering their PR olive branch to the Republicans by putting out a statement indicating that counsel would be asking the court for permission to brief the entire membership of LSC.

But that offer, even in the unlikely event it could be fully met, does not answer several very basic questions regarding this whole matter:

  • Why did Albert Porroni not draw his concerns in this matter to the attention of the full LSC, the appropriate body under the circumstances?
  • Whose attention did he bring this to? If it was just to the Speaker and the Senate President, both partisan Democrats, how does he avoid having his actions thereafter viewed with suspicion?
  • Will Codey and Roberts invoke attorney/client privilege in refusing to allow Porroni to discuss his actions with the public, or with the minority?
  • If not LSC, who did approve the request to hire outside counsel to litigate against the United States Attorney in a criminal probe, one possibly involving serious malfeasance by one or more legislators? Was it just the Speaker and the Senate President? And if so, when?
  • The computer records of legislative information indicate violations of the law in not having meetings of LSA. Why has Commission Chairman Roberts repeatedly ignored his legal obligation under law to call for the statutorily mandated meetings of the Legislative Services Commission?
  • By refusing to permit a meeting, have Roberts and/or Codey concluded that LSC is a superannuated body?
  • Did he, as district running mate to Senator Bryant, have a conflict of interest in the role he played in secretly helping to arrange for outside counsel to attempt to frustrate some aspect of compliance with the federal criminal subpoenas?

And finally, someone should also be asking the federal court to permit the public to be informed of the legal issue that is being tested. The taxpayers certainly have a right to know what legal issue is now being litigated on their dime – especially since the investigation itself is reportedly looking into the secret spending of legislator(s) on behalf of themselves, and/or their families and close associates. It is an insulting double hit on them.

The court could maintain its gag order on the parties, while allowing just the statement of the legal issue being raised to be made public. That would not compromise either the legitimate law enforcement concerns of the prosecution, or the privacy concerns of those who have been drawn into the web of documentation. But releasing a statement of the legal issue or issues that have been raised could be very instructive to the public in helping them to evaluate the focus and level of concern for the voters that is currently being pursued by those they have elected to represent them in the legislature. A way should be found to make these matters a legitimate part of the public debate.

(Update, 02/19)

According to an article printed in both Monday’s Courier Post and Asbury Park Press by Gregory Volpe, a further squabble has now broken out over the hiring of the Mr. Dauber, the attorney who was hired through OLS to litigate the attorney-client issue for, as we now know, Senator Wayne Bryant.

Democrats complained that the LSC did not oversee the hiring of attorneys to litigate issues in the past, but Volpe reported that

Republicans say the current investigation, which brought subpoenas to all four legislative caucuses on Friday, should have prompted another meeting by now.

Volpe also examined the meeting minutes and confirmed that the Commission has not met anywhere near the statutorily required number of times over the past several years.

He reported that:

A review of the Legislative Services Commission's meeting minutes since 2000 had [confirmed that the] . . . commission has met once in 2000, 2003, 2005 and 2007; twice in 2004 and never in 2001, 2002 or 2006. It is required to meet four times per year. Meetings can be called by the chairman, or written request by nine of the 16 Legislators on the panel.

That means that the information first reported here (above) about the consistent failure of the Commission to hold statutorily required meetings since 2004, as gleaned from a call to the legislative information line, was correct with the sole exception that one meeting was apparently held in calendar year 2005. The statute mandates at least 4 meetings a year.

As noted above, on Friday, the central office of OLS refused to confirm past LSC meeting dates, insisting on the submission of a written OPRA request to obtain such cursory information.

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