Task force could be preparing case against ‘special legislation,’ experts say

James Walden, a special counsel for the EDA Task Force, questioned several witnesses about special legislation in referencing changes made to a draft version of the 2013 Economic Opportunity Act at a hearing Thursday in Newark.

The hearing, the second held by the task force that is investigating the state’s Economic Development Authority over potential violations, focused heavily on the $1.1 billion in incentives that went to companies that relocated to Camden.

During the hearing, there were suggestions of falsified job numbers, phantom alternate sites and questions about the access a private lawyer had to the draft bill.

But whether Camden was able to take advantage of the legislation — or whether the legislation was written solely to benefit Camden — was one line of questioning Walden pursued.

Legal experts, speaking on the condition of anonymity, suggested to ROI-NJ that Walden could use the questioning as a basis for a future lawsuit.

Walden asked several questions about how or why lines added to the bill by Kevin Sheehan — a real estate attorney at Parker McCay, a firm run by Philip Norcross, the brother of South Jersey power broker George Norcross — were put in.

There were lines about the U.S. headquarters of an auto company, which Walden suggested pointed to Subaru, and specific requirements for a grocery store, which Walden suggested would match the project specifics of a Sheehan client.

Special legislation has to explicitly name or identify a company or group that it is benefiting and is not constitutional.

There are ways to avoid directly naming places or people.

For example, without naming Camden, a piece of legislation could describe it by its population size, demographics or location. Similarly, a type of business can be described but not named.

Walden raised the issue of special legislation to Tim Lizura, the former president and chief operating officer of the EDA — even though the EDA does not participate in the crafting of legislation.

Walden: Do you know whether or not this provision was added for a specific company?
Lizura: I do not.
Walden: Do you know what special purpose legislation is? Explain it for us, please.
Lizura: It’s a colloquial term that lawyers would use that would describe a certain kind of legislation.
Walden: Is it the kind of legislation that benefits a single purpose or company?
Lizura: That is what I … understand.

Lizura and the EDA, it should be noted, have no power to interpret any legislation that is given to them.

Avni Patel, a lawyer at Walden’s firm, Walden Macht & Haran, followed a similar line of questioning to Brandon McKoy, who recently was elevated to president of New Jersey Policy Perspective:

Patel: Historically, and generally, did the NJPP get called upon … for bill drafting?
McKoy: Yes, we provided comments and helped legislators.
Patel: From a policy perspective … what is your reaction of a private law firm having access to the draft language of a bill and the impact it would have?
McKoy: I don’t think it is uncommon for legislators to ask for outside expertise in crafting a bill. So, seeking that assistance and input is perfectly normal and proper. For an individual or entity to directly edit and write a bill, particularly if that individual has opportunity to benefit financially, I would consider that improper.

NJPP also did not participate in the drafting of the Economic Opportunity Act.

Read more from ROI-NJ: