Corzine's staff details e-mails

May 31, 2008 9:08:01 PM PDT
Gov. Jon S. Corzine's office said Saturday that he only sent 11 e-mails to a state worker union leader he once dated. Corzine spokeswoman Deborah Howlett said Friday's court decision requiring him to release e-mails between himself, his staff and Carla Katz involved 11 from the governor to Katz, 50 from Katz to the governor and 11 from Katz to Tom Shea - who was Corzine's chief of staff at the time - that listed Corzine as receiving a courtesy copy.

Howlett said these e-mails account for exactly 100 pages.

Corzine's office had refused to disclose how many e-mails were sent between the governor and Katz, but they decided to detail them due to confusion about the amount involved because of page numbers cited in Judge Paul Innes' ruling, Howlett said.

"There is a need to set the record straight," she said. "There are not hundreds of e-mails, and the overwhelming number of e-mails were not sent by the governor."

The judge's decision indicates Corzine's office gave up to 796 pages to the judge to be reviewed, but Howlett said most of those pages were legislation and newspaper articles, for examples, that explain and support the e-mails.

Howlett said there could be e-mails from Katz to other governor's office staffers, but did not know how many of those there might be.

Mark Sheridan, the attorney for Tom Wilson, the state Republican Party chairman who filed suit seeking to make the e-mails public, questioned what's in those other pages.

"They now admit that the governor, his staff and Katz had more than 70 back channel communications regarding the union's contract," Sheridan said Saturday. "This is precisely why the lawsuit was filed."

Corzine, who plans to appeal the judge's ruling, had argued the e-mails were protected under privileges afforded governors.

But Innes ruled Corzine's relationship with Katz - president of Communications Workers of America Local 1034, which represents about 10,000 state workers - created "a clear potential for conflict."

Meanwhile, experts said the judge's decision sends a key message to public officials.

"If you are doing the public's business, your communications should be done with the expectation of eventual public disclosure," said Patrice McDermott, director of the group

Wilson has alleged their relationship could have tainted state worker contract talks. He sought e-mails from when Corzine became governor in January 2006 to May 2007.

Innes, in his ruling, wrote, "The public has a right to know whether the relationship between the governor and Ms. Katz had any improper influence on the governor's paramount obligation to serve the interest of the citizens of New Jersey first."

The ruling and legal wrangling comes as Corzine tries to persuade lawmakers to approve $2.9 billion in budget cuts as part of his multi-pronged effort to fix long-troubled state finances.

"I believe he would rather focus his energies and attention on the budget and his new fiscal restructuring plan," said Montclair State University political scientist Brigid Harrison. "This ruling represents a significant distraction from those issues."

Rutgers University political scientist Ingrid Reed expressed similar sentiments.

"This will hurt him right now because he and his staff will have to pay attention to this rather than concentrating on budget negotiations," Reed said.

Corzine is expected to ask the court to delay release of the e-mails while an appeal is pending. Corzine's general counsel, Ed McBride, said Corzine has nothing to hide but is fighting to retain executive privileges.

If the e-mails come out, Peter Woolley, a Fairleigh Dickinson University political scientist said they could prove crucial to Corzine's future.

"For the governor, his credibility is at risk if the e-mails don't fit his description of them," Woolley said.

Reed said the public will have to see what the e-mails contain.

"If there were substantive exchanges about union matters, we will soon be reminded that when Corzine ran, he said that there would be no conflict with her in her union position because he wasn't going to be involved in negotiations," Reed said. "Did he keep his word? This may become more reason for New Jerseyans not to trust their elected officials."

Assemblyman Joseph Cryan, D-Union, the state Democratic Party chairman, called on Republican to drop the dispute.

"They are doing nothing more than engaging in a salacious fishing expedition that does nothing to serve the real needs of the people," Cryan said.

Wilson filed suit on May 31, 2007, asking to make the e-mails public after he and several news organizations, including The Associated Press, were denied access.

Katz gained attention during Corzine's successful 2005 gubernatorial when it was revealed Corzine paid off the mortgage on her house and gave her other gifts they have refused to disclose.

Katz dated Corzine from 2002 to 2004, when he was a U.S. senator. He became governor in January 2006.

For McDermott, the lesson is clear: "No communication with a public official about government business has any expectation of privacy."