The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey today sued Governor Chris Christie’s office in Superior Court on behalf of Gawker Entertainment, challenging the governor’s invocation of executive privilege in refusing to release correspondence between Fox News President Roger Ailes and Christie, the ACLU announced in a release.
“New Jersey needs a system in place to separate executive privilege from carte blanche,” said Frank Corrado of Barry, Corrado, Grassi & Gibson, who is representing reporter John Cook for the ACLU-NJ and is the president of the organization’s board. “Executive privilege exists to help a governor carry out constitutional obligations, not to diminish the constitutional right to a free press.”
According to the ACLU, Gawker reporter Cook on May 25 filed a request for correspondence between the governor and Ailes under the state Open Public Records Act (OPRA). Cook sought any correspondence, phone records and calendar entries from Christie’s office in order to gain insight into conversations reported in New York magazine in which Ailes, a Republican political adviser turned Fox media mogul, urged Christie to run for president.
The ACLU said the governor’s office responded to the OPRA request on June 14, “refusing to confirm whether the records existed, but said that if they did, they would be exempt from OPRA under executive privilege.”
“The public has a right to know whether the head of America’s most-watched cable news channel is advising a sitting governor on State matters,” said Gawker reporter Cook. “If the emails on the state system between the Governor and Ailes don’t relate to Christie’s functions as Governor, then they can’t be hidden from the public.”
The lawsuit, filed today in Superior Court in Mercer County, argues that the state’s blanket assertion of executive privilege, without explanation or description of the documents, was insufficient to sustain the executive privilege claim.
Christie is out of the state today, in Iowa, delivering his recap of the year in New Jersey education, and hosting a fundraiser for GOP Rep. Steve King.
On Monday afternoon, Raymond Brandes, assistant counsel to the governor, wrote a letter to Cook in which he provided the date (Sept. 11, 2010) and hours (7 to 9 p.m.) at which time Brandes said the governor and First Lady Mary Pat Christie dined with Ailes.
“Despite the fact that these records are exempt from disclosure on the basis of the executive privilege, and without any waiver of the right to assert that privilege or any other matter, this office has reviewed its records to identify any records that may be responsive to your request,” Brandes wrote. “We are providing you with a record indicating a schedule entry for a private dinner attended by the Governor and Mr. Ailes. That record is enclosed. Please be advised that this office is in possession of no other records responsive to your request.”