Marra says delay in fulfilling FOIA request is unavoidable

Acting U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra says that the delay in fulfilling a document request by Gov. Jon Corzine’s campaign is partly a result of the need to remove references to confidential witnesses and in some cases the protection of attorney-client privilege.

“We have devoted and continue and devote significant resources daily to the task of fulfilling these FOIA requests,” Marra said in a statement released this afternoon, several hours after U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-Long Branch) wrote U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to complain about the delays.

The Corzine campaign is seeking documents related to the seven-year tenure of his GOP opponent, Christopher Christie, as the U.S. Attorney.

The full text of Marra’s statement:

We continue to see comments to the effect that certain Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests relate to routine information that has not been turned over. In fact, the information sought from all members of the executive office for a full seven years frequently includes references to highly confidential information. In the thousands of pages gathered in this continuous process, there are, for example, countless direct and indirect references to non-public criminal and civil investigations, meetings with witnesses – many of whom came to us with the intention of providing information on a confidential basis to assist in investigations – and other information that must be minutely scrutinized here and by staff of the FOIA office in Washington. As one might reasonably expect in dealing with a prosecuting agency that handles more than 900 criminal cases and many times that in civil cases each year, the task is further complicated by attorney-client privileges, attorney work product and other legal and privacy-issue concerns that one would expect to encounter in such a large request.

As we have said previously, we have devoted and continue and devote significant resources daily to the task of fulfilling these FOIA requests. Some non-confidential information, including, for example, videotapes of press statements and related materials, have been provided to the requestor. Hundreds of employee hours have been expended to accomplish the task to date, and more time is being expended every day. Between this office and the FOIA office within the Executive Office for United States Attorneys in Washington, all reasonable efforts are being undertaken on a continuous basis to fulfill the requests.

Marra’s August 12 statement on the FOIA requests:

The United States Attorney’s Office has received a large number of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests from the Corzine Campaign. The requests have resulted in an unprecedented response from this office, including hundreds of employee hours from paralegals, attorneys, administrative staff and our summer interns, and thousands of pages of documents and other materials. These particular requests have been prioritized ahead of the numerous other FOIA requests the office receives and processes on a regular basis.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has worked as professionally and expeditiously as it can to fulfill all the requests and has been in virtually daily contact with the Executive Office for United States Attorneys (EOUSA) in Washington to accomplish this burdensome and continuous task.

Regarding the process, all of the requests were received first by EOUSA staff in the Department of Justice in Washington and in turn forwarded to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The documents have been gathered on a continuous basis and sent to EOUSA, which is the final supervising and reviewing authority in determining whether the request has been adequately complied with by this office and what ultimately is released or withheld under FOIA.

All efforts have been made and continue to be made to comply with the requests and to fulfill our FOIA obligations, at the same time that our attorneys and staff fulfill their primary duties of investigating and prosecuting criminal and civil cases for the United States. At absolutely no time has there been an effort to slow down or inhibit the FOIA process.

Marra says delay in fulfilling FOIA request is unavoidable