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Sunday, July 14, 2024 | Back issues
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Ex-Port Authority Chair Sues to Toss N.J. Ethics Probe

(CN) - As the New Jersey State Ethics Committee continues its almost-yearlong probe into the central figures of the so-called "Bridgegate" scandal, a new federal lawsuit raises a thorny legal question: Do New Jersey investigators have authority over a body that straddles a border with New York?

Ex-Port Authority director David Samson answered the question with a "no" in a federal lawsuit this week, challenging the jurisdiction of the body that would investigate him.

Earlier this year, emails surfaced in the press showing that Christie's top aides caused all but one entry lane to the bridge at Fort Lee to be closed for four days - from Sept. 9 through 13, 2013 - prompting enormous traffic jams.

An apparent political vendetta caused emergency vehicles, children returning from school, and residents of the New York City suburb of 36,000 people to halt, and the governor quickly blamed to his aides.

As this unfolded, Samson fired off emails criticizing the Port Authority's executive director, Patrick Foye, of leaking information so he could ride in "on a white horse to save the day," the New Jersey Star Ledger reported at the time.

The New Jersey Working Families Alliance filed a 19-page complaint this past March requesting the ethics committee to take action.

On Monday, Samson and his firm Wolff & Samson, PC sued for a judgment that the committee has no power to do so.

New Jersey State Senator Richard Codey, a Democrat representing Essex County, "has pointedly recognized the NJSEC's lack of authority with respect to Port Authority Commissioners," the 18-page complaint notes.

Earlier this year, Codey told the Bergen Record that "Port Authority commissioners cannot currently be investigated by the New Jersey Ethics Commission because the authority is a bi-state agency," according to the complaint.

The fact that Samson sued the commission itself means that the defense will be handled by New Jersey's acting Attorney General John Hoffman, a Christie appointee, a spokesman for the Working Families Alliance noted in a phone interview.

The alliance has made no decision over whether it will intervene in the lawsuit, spokesman Rob Duffey said, adding that the possibility is "obviously something that we've discussed."

In a statement, the group's director, Analilia Mejia, reiterated the need for "appropriate safeguards" to make sure the attorney general represents "public's interest in getting to the bottom of Samson's dealings."

"David Samson repeatedly involved himself in Port Authority decisions that benefited the clients of his politically connected law firm and presided over an institution rife with cronyism and corruption," Mejia added. "It's no surprise Mr. Samson would want to escape responsibility for his ethical lapses on a technicality."

But Mejia insists that jurisdiction law is on the side of the alliance.

"Samson conveniently omits key provisions of the Port Authority Code of Ethics and New Jersey state law that place his actions clearly within the reach of New Jersey's ethics law," she wrote. "The law is clear - as is the fact that David Samson is fighting as hard as he can to hide from public view the real story behind his actions as a public official."

Samson is represented by Edward Dauber of Greenberg, Dauber, Epstein & Tucker PC and Michael Chertoff of Covington & Burling LLP.

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