Newspaper Sues Gov. Christie for Records

     CAMDEN, N.J. (CN) – Gov. Chris Christie’s office refuses to release records that could show just what Republican campaign contributors did under state contracts after Hurricane Sandy, The Record newspaper claims in court.
     The North Jersey Media Group, whose flagship is The Record, sued New Jersey, the Governor’s Office and Custodian of Records Hillary Hewit, in Mercer County Court.
     Record reporter Shawn Boburg submitted an Open Public Records Act request for invoices and attachments submitted to the state by Witt Group Holdings. The state eventually produced records but the timesheets were “heavily redacted,” The Record says in the complaint. It wants to see the unredacted records.
     After Hurricane Sandy devastated the Eastern Seaboard, Gov. Christie announced the hiring of Witt Group Holdings.
     “According to Governor Christie’s press release at the time, Witt was hired to ‘provide strategic support to the state in all facets of recovery and mitigation; resources for appropriate resolution services to assist in the state reconstruction; and senior level consultation in all facets of the intermediate and long term recovery process,'” the complaint states.
     “Upon information and belief, earlier this year, Governor Christie was criticized by other elected officials and the public when it was discovered that Witt and at least four other companies hired by New Jersey in the wake of Hurricane Sandy made donations to the Republican Governors Association and other Republican causes. Since that time the public has been interested in the work of Witt and the costs associated with its contract.”
     Record reporter Boburg in February sought “all billing statements submitted by Witt Associates to the state of New Jersey or its representatives from October 2012 to the present.”
     The Governor’s Office was required to respond within seven days, but asked Boburg after ten days for a two-week extension.
     Fifty days later, The Record’s attorneys asked the Governor’s Office where the records were.
     “The following week, on April 10, 2013, the Governor’s Office responded to plaintiff’s OPRA request, providing the Witt invoice requested by plaintiff. For the requested period ending December 2012, the invoice provided indicated that Witt billed the state of New Jersey $553,812.25. The invoice provided no details pertaining to the nature of the work provided by Witt; instead, the Witt invoice clearly states ‘see attached worksheets for details.’ However, there were no worksheets provided with defendant’s April 10th response to plaintiff’s OPRA request.”
     The Record asked again about the missing worksheets, and Attorney General Michael Schultz responded that he would treat the request for the missing attachments as a new OPRA request.
     Schultz too asked for an extension to gather the documents and to review and redact the documents and attachments.
     “On May 20, 2013, the Governor’s Office ultimately provided the timesheets that were attached to the invoice submitted by Witt Group Holding’s LLC. However, when doing so, the Governor’s Office redacted the columns entitled ‘review status,’ ‘descriptions [of work]’ and ‘meeting summary’ in their entirety. The only descriptive information on the timesheets regarding the work provided by Witt were broad and vague categories of work such as ‘meeting,’ ‘training,’ ‘project development,’ ‘travel (workday)’ or ‘other.’ The Governor’s Office’s May 30, 2013 letter to Mr. Boburg stated that the public records provided were redacted ‘based on the advisory, consultative and deliberative privilege.’ No other information was provided regarding the numerous redactions to the provided records,” according to the complaint.
     The Record’s attorneys on June 27 told the state that the worksheets had been “over redacted” and that the newspaper was “perplexed as to why the extensions were necessary given that redacting the aforementioned columns in their entirety required no careful consideration or any considerable amount of time.”
     The Record asked for a response by July 2, and it still waiting.
     It wants to see the records.
     It is represented by Robert Thompson of Woodland Park, N.J.
     The Record describes itself as Northern New Jersey’s leading newspaper. It reports daily circulation of 155,000 and 180,000 on Sundays.

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