TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey has sued the Christie administration for denying open public records requests stemming from the controversial George Washington Bridge lane closures.
The lawsuit was filed Monday in state Superior Court in Mercer County and was made public Wednesday. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for July 21.
The ACLU is challenging the decision by nine state agencies, including Gov. Chris Christie‘s office, to deny a request from a community activist in southern New Jersey who sought records of all the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests others had made regarding the lane closures.
The ACLU said Harry Scheeler of Cape May County has been auditing government agencies for years to see if they are complying with OPRA. Scheeler asks for records of all OPRA requests submitted to various government agencies and then posts his findings to his website.
This year, Scheeler’s requests for documents related to the George Washington Bridge scandal were denied.
“One of the most audacious parts of this case is the state’s insistence that the public cannot view these records, even though these very same agencies provided the same types of records for the same member of the public year after year,” said attorney Bruce Rosen, who is representing the ACLU. “The biggest difference between the previous years’ requests and those made this year seems to be the political atmosphere. The law, as always, errs on the side of giving the public more access to the workings of government, and the state government must serve that mandate.”
Scheeler wrote on his website Monday: “If our Governor is truly innocent in the ‘Bridgegate’ scandal I would expect he would be transparent to the greatest extent. But what we see is information being released in an orchestrated controlled manner. I personally don’t want to watch a government led dog and pony show.”
The Christie administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.
Meanwhile, New Jersey lawmakers investigating the politically motivated lane closures have issued a subpoena to Christie political strategist Michael DuHaime. The subpoena is dated Monday and asks only for documents.
DuHaime’s lawyer, Marc Mukasey, said he is concerned that the subpoena is about politics but says he will comply.
Mukasey says DuHaime was not involved in the September 2013 closures that caused traffic jams for four days in Fort Lee. The move appeared to be political retribution targeted at Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich.
DuHaime told a lawyer who compiled a report on behalf of the governor’s office that he was told in November or early December of last year that Christie staffer Bridget Kelly and campaign manager Bill Stepien knew about the closures in advance.
Christie fired Kelly and cut ties with Stepien in January.
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