Court sides with Ethics panel, against Brennan in battle with Rumana

TRENTON – An appellate court Monday ruled against a former Assembly candidate in his ongoing ethics battle against Assemblyman Scott Rumana.

The court overturned a decision from February 2012 in which a court had thrown out a decision by the state Ethics Commission.

The Ethics Commission had dismissed a complaint brought by William Brennan, but the court last year dismissed that decision because one member participated by telephone in the vote, which violated Commission bylaws. 

This morning an appellate court reversed that court decision regarding participation by phone.

“We conclude that the member was permitted to participate by speakerphone and reverse an order that granted summary judgment to plaintiff,” the court ruled Monday.

“We conclude that there was no legislative proscription against Judge (Daniel) Mecca’s participation in the September 27, 2011 meeting and reverse,” the court ruled.

The court also dismissed a related appeal by Brennan.

The heart of the ethics complaint involves Brennan’s allegation that Rumana violated legislative ethics rules by attempting to appear before a state body to advocate on behalf of an energy project in Wayne.

Initially, delays on the project cost the city of Wayne $2.2 million in grant money lost when a solar energy project was not built.  Brennan said at the time that $10 million more was lost in Solar Renewable Energy Credits the project would have generated over 20 years. 

Regarding the question of whether a commission member must be physically present during a meeting, the court reflected on the realities of doing public business in the increasingly electronic age.

The Ethics Commission had argued in court that the plain language of the Open Public Meetings Act does not preclude a member participating by phone.

“This conforms to the reality of how business is conducted in the twenty-first century,” the court said this morning.

Regarding the other aspect of the case, Brennan had appealed the Ethics panel’s decision to allow then-chairman Alan Rosenthal to participate in the case despite Brennan’s challenge to Rosenthal’s qualifications.

But the court today in part referred to the separation of powers, and said Brennan’s “argument calls for a judicial interpretation of a legislative rule.”

Court sides with Ethics panel, against Brennan in battle with Rumana