After a protracted legal battle, Mercer County Superior Court Judge Paul Innes today ordered Gov. Jon Corzine to release about 740 pages of email correspondences between him and union leader/ex-girlfriend Karla Katz.
But don’t expect to see the emails any time soon. Attorney General Anne Milgram, who respresents Corzine in the matter, has vowed to appeal the decision with the state Supreme Court and will seek a stay on the release of the documents.
"We believe that the judge’s decision significantly undercuts the longstanding privilege in a way that harms the Office of the Governor and the ability of future governors to do their job effectively," she said in a statement.
Judge Innes ruled that only 45 out of nearly 800 emails were not subject to disclosure.
Today’s decision is the outcome of a lawsuit that has started just one day short of a year ago. On May 31, 2007, Republican State Chairman Tom Wilson filed suit to force the Corzine Administration to release the emails, which they suspected contained discussions about a contract negotiation between the state and Katz’s union, Communications Workers of America Local 1034.
Wilson said that Milgram had attempted to get the number of emails redacted from the judge’s public decision.
Corzine insisted that the emails, which were sent from his campaign account, did not contain anything pertaining to the contract negotiations. Last year, he turned them over to the Ethics Advisory Panel, which found they did not influence negotiations and were not unethical.
“The public has a right to know whether the relationship between the Governor and Ms. Katz had any improper influence or effect on the Governor’s paramount obligation to serve the interest of the citizens of New Jersey first,” Innes wrote in the decision.
Corzine had denied release of the documents on the grounds of executive privilege, which the Judge slapped down, saying it that Carla Katz does not count as a member of his staff.
“The communications involved are not between the Governor and members of his staff. Rather, the communications sought are those between the executive branch and a high level official in a public employee union,” wrote Innes. “…The relationship created a clear potential for conflict.”
Wilson said that the sheer number of emails was shockingly high, and that it made it hard to believe Corzine’s claim that he did not respond to them.
“That’s an awful lot of communication from one person to another with no response. At what point do you get the hint to stop writing?” said Wilson.
But people familiar with the case said that the number in the judges ruling includes attachments, news clippings, legislative bills — one of which was 200 pages long. Some of the emails were not sent to the Govenor. The number of actual correspondences between Corzine and Katz, they say, is much lower.
Wilson added that he wished the Governor would drop the legal battle and turn over the emails.
“It’s been a long battle, and I’m sorry it’s not over. That’s the Governor’s decision,” he said. “He himself said ‘Hold me accountable.’ He’s certainly doing everything he can to make sure he’s not held accountable. On top of his other problems right now, this is another big one, and if he continues to fight it he’s going to continue he looks like he’s got something to hide.”
Wilson said that he’s uncertain the Ethics Panel that gave Corzine the all clear was given the nearly 800 messages that the court has ordered turned over.
Corzine General Counsel Ed McBride said that the judge recognized the principle of executive privilege, but did not interpret it correctly.
“This case has never been about hiding anything – the Governor has nothing to hide. In fact, the Governor has given emails to the Governor’s Advisory Ethics Panel and to the court for their review, and today the court confirmed the Panel’s conclusion that all labor negotiations took place at the bargaining table and not through email communications,” he said. “The court has come up with an unprecedented, narrow view of the privilege that ignores an important constitutional principle which for over 200 years has been a central feature of the separation of powers arrangement of our federal and state constitutions.”
Added McBride: “Even though the court today vindicated the Governor’s position regarding the integrity of the bargaining process, the Governor intends to follow the advice of the Attorney General that the only way to protect the ability of government to operate effectively for the benefit of the people of this state is to appeal the court’s ruling.”
Katz had already unsuccessfully tried to throw out the lawsuit, while rivals in other branches of her union joined the Republicans' side. Her attorney said she would fight the ruling.
“This entire lawsuit has always been motivated by the Republican Party’s and Tom Wilson's desire to misuse the court system to embarrass the Governor for political gain," said Sidney Lehmann, an attorney for Katz, in a statement released this afternoon. "We continue to believe that these emails, sent with the expectation of privacy, should rightfully remain private. We believe that the Court's ruling is wrong. We will appeal it and continue to vigorously fight for the time-honored rights to confidentiality and privacy."