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Matt Friedman

Operator refuses unscreened questions on call with Norcross attorneys, reporter claims

South Jersey Democratic leader challenges legality of Murphy’s EDA task force

By Nikita Biryukov, May 21 2019 6:54 pm

Operators on a conference call with attorneys representing South Jersey Democratic leader George Norcross in his lawsuit against Gov. Phil Murphy refused to take unscreened reporter questions, Politico New Jersey’s Matt Friedman said.

“On conference call with Norcross lawyers, I talked to the operator to ask a question. But they won’t take it. ‘We do not have any further questions.’ I’m sitting here trying to ask one!” Friedman said on Twitter, quoting the operator. “The operator wanted me to give her the question ahead of time. I said I had several and wanted to hear what others asked first. But they didn’t take any of my questions.”

The call’s operator, who was identified only as Megan, repeatedly said questions would be taken by volunteer operators.

The identity of those operators is not clear, and Friedman told the New Jersey Globe he believed Megan was the operator who attempted to screen his questions, though he was not sure.

“It never sits right to give your questions ahead of time. It’s just something reporters in general don’t like to do,” Friedman told the New Jersey Globe. “There was both that reason and a practical reason. I thought other people would want to ask questions, and if they had the same question, I wanted to ask a different question because I had several.”

The attorneys on the call — Michael Critchley, Kevin Marino and Herbert Stern — received and answered only one question, posed by the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Andrew Seidman, during the conference call.

It’s not clear whether any other reporters attempted to pose questions.

A spokesman for Norcross, Dan Fee, there was nothing wrong with the way the conference call was handled.

“Over the past few weeks, we have responded to dozens of questions and comments from Politico — including another half-a-dozen today on a related topic,” said Fee. “I can’t imagine what was so secret about Matt’s questions that he felt he couldn’t give the moderator even an idea of what they were so he could get through to ask them, but I am sure they would have been revelatory.”

Friedman said he intended to ask the attorneys if they would attempt to stop the task force convened by Gov. Phil Murphy to investigate abuses of the Economic Development Authority’s tax incentive programs from holding hearings while their suit was ongoing.

Norcross’s camp claims the task force does not have the legal authority to investigate the EDA, among other things.

He also wanted to ask why the attorneys had previously demanded an opportunity to defend themselves at task force hearings they now say they will not participate in.

The attorneys now say they are want to appear and cooperate with legislative inquiries into the EDA. Friedman wanted them to explain how hearings headed by close Norcross ally Steve Sweeney would provide a fairer view of abuses of the EDA’s programs.

He didn’t get to ask any of those questions before the call was shut off.

“We’re so excited to have you join us this afternoon and we can’t wait to hear from all of you,” Megan said at the start of the call.

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