Legitimacy of EDA Task Force questioned by lawyers representing Norcrosses

A team of six top lawyers representing George Norcross, Philip Norcross and their business interests questioned the legitimacy of the task force Gov. Phil Murphy set up to look into allegations of abuse by the Economic Development Authority in the administration of the state’s tax incentive programs, in a six-page letter that was released late Monday.

The letter, which was sent by email and hand-delivered to the New York City offices of special counsel James Walden, questioned the authority of the task force and complained about the inability of “targets” of the hearings to provide a counterpoints or statements against witness and whistleblower statements. The letter registered complaints against Walden and the committee chair, Ronald Chen:

“On behalf of our respective clients, we write to object to the unlawful process you are conducting on behalf of the Task Force on the Economic Development Agency’s Tax Incentives. For the reasons set forth herein, the Task Force’s chair, Mr. Chen, lacks statutory authority over the Economic Development Agency, which is an independent authority not subject to the gubernatorial powers set forth in N.J.S.A. 52:15-7.

“Moreover, the arbitrary restrictions you imposed on our clients’ rights to respond to false accusations against them denies each of them the opportunity to exercise their First Amendment rights as well as their right to publicly confront accusers within the same public forum. Given your stated intention to publicly adduce ‘adverse’ evidence against our clients, these restrictions are particularly noxious. We therefore demand an opportunity to submit a public presentation to the Task Force at its next scheduled hearing.”

The letter was signed by Chris Porrino, Michael Critchley Sr., Herbert Stern, William Tambussi, Michael Chertoff and Kevin Marino.

The letter was in response to the most recent meeting of the task force, held last Thursday, when incentives given to companies that relocated to Camden were heavily criticized.

Jersey City-based World Business Lenders, which also was under scrutiny, previously complained about not being able to respond to allegations against it.

The letter cites a statute that allows the governor to investigate the management “by any state officer of the affairs of any department, board, bureau or commission of the state. It does not extend to independent authorities like the EDA.”

The EDA was created by statute in 1974, the letter said, and is in “but not of,” the Department of the Treasury.

Neither the Governor’s office nor the task force had an immediate response to the letter.

Earlier Monday, Chen responded to a similar line of questioning from Camden County officials about the validity of Chen running the task force since he, Chen, is a professor at Rutgers University, which has benefitted from the state’s tax incentives.

“The governor has full constitutional and statutory authority to investigate any entity within the Executive Branch, including the EDA, either by himself or through a delegate,” Chen said in a statement.

“If anyone wishes to challenge that authority, they should bring an appropriate action in court and we are ready to defend it vigorously.”

Last week, Critchley questioned the validity of Walden, a lawyer in New York, being appointed special counsel and practicing law in New Jersey.

See a copy of the letter, addressed to Walden, below.