Judge skeptical of absent paper trail for Newark’s Facebook grant, allows lawsuit

TRENTON – Superior Court Judge Rachel Davidson blocked Newark’s attempt to dismiss a lawsuit seeking records pertaining to the city’s $100 million education grant from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Davidson denied a motion by the city to dismiss the complaint, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of N.J. (ACLU-NJ) on behalf of a group of Newark parents and grandparents, the Secondary Parent Council.

“It’s a little difficult to believe that after Mr. Zuckerberg pledged $100 million to the Newark Schools that the City of Newark would not have a document,” Davidson said in court today, according to an ACLU-NJ press release. The judge ordered the city to produce a list of documents in its possession.

The city claims it has no documents and only about 50 emails, but that the communications would not be public documents due to mayoral executive privilege. The ACLU argues that executive privilege is only afforded to the governor, not mayors, in New Jersey. Davidson ordered the city to provide a log and description of the emails by Feb. 10.

“Newark’s arguments to skirt New Jersey’s public disclosure laws simply haven’t added up from the start – that’s just one reason why this lawsuit is going forward today,” said Frank Corrado, president of the ACLU-NJ Board of Trustees and an attorney with Barry, Corrado, Grassi & Gibson. The firm is representing the Secondary Parent Council on the ACLU-NJ’s behalf.

“When Mayor Booker accepted this generous offer to help transform Newark’s schools, he emphasized the role the public would play in the process. Instead they have been denied basic requests for public documents,” Corrado said in a release.

Newark Corporation Counsel Anna Pereira said in an email: “It would be inappropriate for the city to comment at this time as the matter is pending in court.”

Judge skeptical of absent paper trail for Newark’s Facebook grant, allows lawsuit