The New Jersey Superior Court’s Appellate Division denied an appeal filed by Democratic powerbroker George Norcross seeking to reinstate a suit claiming state law did not give Gov. Phil Murphy the authority to form a task force that investigated firms with ties to the kingmaker.
Norcross, Conner Strong & Buckelew, NFI, The Michaels Organization, Cooper University Health Care and Parker McCay — the Norcross-linked firms that were also involved in the suit — claimed Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson erred in dismissing count two of the complaint last July because she considered extrinsic information.
The plaintiffs sought to reverse the dismissal or, failing that, to have the dismissal be made without prejudice. Such a ruling would have allowed the plaintiffs to refile the case at a later date.
The court ruled that the task force investigating incentives doled out by the Economic Development Authority was within its rights to consider the content of reports drafted by the state comptroller and state auditor examining the EDA’s handling of the incentive programs.
“Both the State Auditor’s report and the State Comptroller’s report enhance the narrative and provide necessary context to understand the Task Force’s actions,” the judges said. “They reveal the Governor’s legitimate concerns about a State entity’s administration of tax incentive programs, thereby supporting his creation of the Task Force and the Task Force’s subsequent actions, which included issuing the letters and subpoenas.”
The task force uncovered apparent deficiencies with tax incentive applications filed by firms with connections to Norcross.
It claimed the firms misrepresented their intent to move out of New Jersey absent tax incentives, though many of the firms had publicly said they would remain in the state in advance of filing tax incentive applications that claimed the were considering moving New Jersey jobs out of state.
The firms claimed the task force’s investigation improperly focused on Norcross and the companies connected to him for political reasons.
Norcross, likely the most powerful unelected person in the state, is a close ally of Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford), with whom the governor has butted heads repeatedly during his first term in office.
But the court ruled that subpoenas filed to the organizations were clearly made as part of an investigation into the EDA’s handling of its tax incentive programs.
Further, Judges Scott Moynihan and Stephanie Ann Mitterhoff found that the firms took comments about their applications made at the task force’s second public hearing focused on the EDA’s oversight and the review of the firms’ applications were made with that goal in mind.