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Sweeney, Coughlin back Lesniak on ExxonMobil settlement

Legislative leaders say ex-Senator has standing to challenge Christie deal

By David Wildstein

The state’s top legislative leaders say that former State Sen. Raymond Lesniak should be allowed to appeal ex-Gov. Chris Christie’s settlement of a massive environmental claim with ExxonMobil.

Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin are filing an amicus brief telling the New Jersey Supreme Court that Lesniak, who led the fight against the settlement, should have standing to join the case.

ExxonMobil was accused of polluting streams, wetlands and marshlands near its Linden and Bayonne refineries in what Lesniak said was one of the largest resource damage cases in American history.  Christie settled the $8.9 billion claim for $225 million – three cents on the dollar.

Lesniak filed a lawsuit to stop the settlement, but the court said he lacked standing because he had no direct property interest in the case.  Lesniak has appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, and now had Sweeney and Coughlin on his side.

The Murphy administration is supporting Christie’s settlement.

“I’m grateful that Senate President Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Coughlin have put their considerable weight behind my challenge to overturn Governor Christie’s sellout to ExxonMobil,” said Lesniak.

Leon Sokol, the longtime counsel to the New Jersey State Senate who is representing Sweeney and Coughlin, says that there is “no court rule or other Supreme Court guidance as to the parameters of a fairness hearing in the context of an environmental settlement. Certification is warranted to address this vital issue of public concern”

He is arguing that the Appellate Division did not consider Lesniak’s arguments into the Consent Judgment because the Senator’s application for intervention was denied by that court.

“Because Senator Lesniak was the party that raised this issue, the denial of his application for intervention resulted in substantial issues of law and policy that were not adequately addressed by the courts below,” Sokol wrote.  “Certification is warranted so that this Court can consider and address these vital questions of public importance that have not been but should be considered by this Court.”

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