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Former Supreme Court Justice John E. Wallace, Jr. (Photo: Brown & Connery).

Republicans allege Wallace conflicts, amend challenge of congressional redistricting map

GOP says campaign contributions involving tiebreaker’s wife is an issue

By David Wildstein, January 06 2022 12:49 pm

New Jersey Republicans will amend their legal protest of the selection of a Democratic congressional redistricting map to include allegations that campaign contributions made by the wife of the court-selected tiebreaker, former Supreme Court Justice John E. Wallace, Jr., created an unfair conflict of interest.

The tiebreaker’s wife, Barbara Wallace, had contributed to Democratic federal candidates in 2021 and had received significant campaign contributions from allies of South Jersey Democrats – and from Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Ewing) —  during her campaigns for mayor of Washington Township in 2011 and 2012.

“Wallace’s wife was making donations to a sitting congresswoman who was going to be uniquely impacted by the decision that her husband was gonna make,” said Matt Moench, the GOP redistricting counsel.  “And that is definition of conflict of interest that should have been disclosed and disqualified him.”

But the crux of the Republican complaint is Wallace’s own statement that he picked the Democratic map “simply because in the last redistricting map, it was drawn by the Republicans.  Thus, I conclude that fairness dictates that the Democrats had the opportunity to have their map used for this next redistricting cycle.”

The Republican members of the Congressional Redistricting Commission asked the Supreme Court to affirm Wallace’s vote based on his own fairness doctrine.

This week, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner ordered Wallace to provide them with “a more detailed statement of reason.”

“It left the Supreme Court with no justiciable basis to affirm or deny the tiebreakers decision. I think that’s the definition of arbitrary and capricious. And we think the Supreme Court agreed with us when they entered their order the other day,” said Doug Steinhardt, the Republican redistricting chairman. “That effectively gave just as Wallace a redo, and we dispute the legal basis for giving him a quote, unquote redo, or a second bite at the apple.”

After the two parties were unable to agree on a tiebreaker, the state Supreme Court picked Wallace, who was submitted by the Democrats.  The Republican candidate was former Superior Court Judge Marina Corodemus.

“She was never contacted.  She was never interviewed,” Steinhardt said. “The Supreme Court paid her no deference whatsoever and simply went about choosing one of its own, Mr. Wallace, which to me makes my point.”

Steinhardt said he wants the court to be given another opportunity to review the map based on the criteria Wallace set at the start of the process.

“To review the map objectively based on the criteria that was set forth, and you know if that if the Commission refuses to comply, then we think the New Jersey Supreme Court could step in and make the necessary changes,” he said.

Republicans maintain that their map was superior the one submitted by the Democrats and approved by Wallace, suggesting that they proposed competitive races in four districts while the new map puts just one clearly in play.    The GOP also objected to the carving up of Joint Base McGuire in South Jersey into two House districts.

“Our map leaves about 85% of the state’s population in its current in in their current districts and the adopted back keeps only 80% of the state’s population in their current district,” said Justin Torchinsky, a counsel to the Republicans.  “Our map doesn’t pair any incumbent with it with each other, and yet the adopted map pairs representatives Kim and Smith in there, saying in the same district.

Torchinsky said the Republican map was the more compact of the two.

“The adopted map has all kinds of numerous tendrils and fingers with both (districts) five and seven crossing the state entirely from east to west and basically obviously politically motivated odd appendages in (districts) 2, 3, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12,” Torchinsky said.

Wallace works at a politically potent South Jersey law firm with close ties to Democratic powerbroker George Norcross, Brown & Connery.  Bill Tambussi, a partner at the firm, has been the counsel to the Camden County Democratic organization for 32 years and is the personal attorney for George E. Norcross III, a major Democratic powerbroker.

“We think Justice Wallace has a conflict. We think the process was flawed,” Steinhardt said.  “We think that the map (that was) selected wasn’t well reasoned.  We think the map that we provided is better.”

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