Tag: Holly Schepisi

Handlin, Carroll on the direction of Bridgegate investigation

Source: New Jersey Law Journal -

With more than three weeks having passed since its last meeting and with at least a month to go before its next, questions are starting to arise over whether the New Jersey legislative committee investigating last September’s closures of local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge continues to have any relevance and, if it does, whether it needs to shift its focus.

Amy Handlin

Handlin said the lack of ability on the part of the committee to call key witnesses is why the committee should change course and start looking at reform legislation.

“We pretty much know who did it,” she said. “The witnesses that are left to us are not important enough to the [grand jury] investigation, so why should we call them? At best it’s beating a dead horse.”

Republicans who make up the minority of the Legislative Select Committee on Investigation have been saying recently that the committee, even if its creation was questionable from the start, should now be looking at enacting legislation aimed at reforming the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the bridge and where an appointee of Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is said to have hatched the scheme.

But the committee’s co-chair, Assemblyman John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex, disagrees. Wisniewski said it makes no sense to start talking about reform legislation until there is a complete understanding of what occurred within the administration and the Port Authority before the Sept. 9-13 lane closures, how people reacted afterward and why.

The committee’s work has been hamstrung somewhat by U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, whose office is leading a grand jury investigation into the closures. At his request, the committee has agreed to not call key witnesses who could provide detailed information, including Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye, an appointee of New York’s Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo.

Foye wrote an angry email Sept. 13 saying he was opening up the lanes. He questioned the motivations for the closures and suggested that state and federal laws may have been violated.

The committee has agreed to not call other witnesses.

Some of those witnesses who are off-limits include Christie’s former chief counsel, Charles McKenna; Christie’s top political strategist, Michael DuHaime; the Port Authority; Foye’s deputy, Deborah Gramiccioni; Phillip Kwon, Port Authority deputy general counsel and former state Supreme Court nominee; and Nicole Crifo, an attorney in the Authorities Unit in the governor’s office.

“We’re now colliding with the federal investigation,” said Sen. Kevin O’Toole, R-Passaic, a committee member who is with O’Toole Fernandez Weiner Van Lieu in Verona, N.J. “We should be looking at legislative reforms now.”

That sentiment was echoed by two other Republicans on the committee, Assemblywoman Amy Handlin of Monmouth County and Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll of Morris County.

“I’ve been saying this for months,” Handlin said. “This is a legislative committee that has been given a special set of responsibilities and resources. We could be using them to enact reform legislation.”

Michael Patrick Carroll

Carroll said, “We should have shifted focus from the start.”

Handlin and the other Republican on the committee, Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi of Bergen County, have tried without success at recent meetings of the committee to persuade the leadership to at least begin reviewing reform legislation.

At present there are more than 50 bills and resolutions, some of which are identical versions of Assembly and Senate measures, that would change the way the Port Authority—the massive bi-state agency created in 1921 that operates the region’s airports and seaports and most of the Hudson River crossings and a number of office buildings and industrial properties—conducts its business and how it is governed.

Most of those pending measures are bipartisan.

One bill—A-1083/S-303—is called the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Transparency and Accountability Act and would make a number of changes.

It would mandate an independent audit of the Port Authority; specify how it conducts public meetings when considering major changes, such as toll or fare increases; create an audit, finance and governance committee; require financial disclosure requirements for commissioners; and impose a fiduciary duty on commissioners, who are appointed by the governors of the two states.

Handlin and Wisniewski are among the sponsors, along with the other co-chair, Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, and another committee member, Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen.

Another bill, A-1095/S-312, would subject the Port Authority to New York’s Freedom of Information Law and to New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act. Again, Wisniewski and Weinberg are two of the sponsors, along with Handlin.

Among other things, the bill would require the Port Authority to adopt good-governance practices, such as codes of conduct, and offer protections to whistleblowers by subjecting it to the Conscientious Employee Protection Act. Its primary sponsors include Handlin, Schepisi and O’Toole.

“These are the things we should be looking at,” O’Toole said. “The federal investigation will take care of itself.”

Any measures would have to be passed by both states’ legislatures and signed into law by both governors before they could become effective.

Carroll suggested that the committee could consider broadening the scope of its investigation and suggested that it may have done so by discussing how the administration is also under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office for its decision to use funds raised through Port Authority bond sales to finance the $1.8 billion repair of the Pulaski Skyway, which links Newark to Jersey City, N.J.

“We can make sure [the agency] is not being used as a kitty to pay for presents under the Christmas tree,” he said.

Handlin said the lack of ability on the part of the committee to call key witnesses is why the committee should change course and start looking at reform legislation.

“We pretty much know who did it,” she said. “The witnesses that are left to us are not important enough to the [grand jury] investigation, so why should we call them? At best it’s beating a dead horse.”

Most of the witnesses who have appeared have said they knew nothing of the traffic stops beforehand and were not involved in the planning of it.

It is generally accepted at this point that the closures were ordered by Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, and David Wildstein, a former Christie appointee at the Port Authority, who purportedly wanted to exact revenge on the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., who declined to endorse Christie for reelection last November.

The closings were labeled as part of a traffic study, a theory that has since been dismissed.

Christie fired Kelly after learning of her role and Wildstein was forced to resign.

Although Wildstein early on provided the committee with many incriminating documents—including the now-famous “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” email—both he and Kelly have refused to testify. Christie’s former campaign manager, Bill Stepien, also has invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Christie pushed Stepien out of his position as head of the state Republican organization because of his role in managing the affair after it was over.

Ben Dworkin, the director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University, said the committee can still perform a useful function, even if its abilities are hampered by the ongoing federal investigation.

“One, it’s illuminating the process of government, how things got done,” he said. “Two, it can come up with legislation that addresses those issues.”

Dworkin said, having the committee continue to hold hearings and whether any witnesses offer any useful information or not, benefits Democrats who control the committee as they try to pin at least some responsibility, if not blame, on Christie as he prepares to decide whether he will seek his party’s nomination for president in 2016.

“Any new testimony, no matter how relevant, keeps Christie and the administration on the defensive,” he said.

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Schepisi Discusses Bridgegate Developments on NJTV [video]

Source: NJTV Online [video] -

Holly Schepisi

Assembly Republican Holly Schepisi joined host Michael Aron on “On the Record” to discuss the latest developments in Bridgegate controversy and the Select Committee on Investigation.

“I think the entire stated premise of this committee was to uncover the inner workings of the Port Authority, an agency that absolutely has to be reformed. We have not done that,” said Schepisi.

“There was an opportunity that we missed to put forth transparency legislation with our partners in New York, with the legislature in New York. For whatever reason,that press conference was cancelled. Their now breaking.”

 

On the Record

Episode

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Schepisi’s “NJ Family Collaborative Law Act” a Better Way to Settle Disagreements

Assembly Republican Press Release -

Legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, R-Bergen and Passaic, helping families resolve divorces and other legal disputes without resorting to litigation, was approved by the General Assembly today. The bill, A-1477, is known as the “New Jersey Family Collaborative Law Act.” Similar legislation has already been signed into law in eight states and the District of Columbia.

Holly Schepisi

“This helps reduce the backlog in family courts, saves taxpayers money and reduces costs for the families involved. It is a positive and proven alternative for family members to settle their differences in a non-confrontational way,” said Schepisi. “This is purely voluntary and parties do not give up any of their legal rights in this process. We should give families the tools that can help them work out their differences in good faith and avoid a prolonged settlement in the courts.”

The collaborative process is mostly utilized in family law, where the parties agree to settle their differences through negotiation. Each side can retain a lawyer of their choosing who assists in the process.

The success of the process is contingent on attorneys contractually limiting the scope of their representation to achieving resolution through the non-adversarial processes. Lawyers (and also their firms) enter into an agreement that if adversarial litigation ensues, both parties’ attorneys must withdraw from their representation.

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Schepisi Pleased Interest Arbitration Bill Passes Assembly

Assembly Republican Press Release -

Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, R-Bergen and Passaic, who was one of the primary sponsors extending the initial arbitration reform legislation that expired in March, voiced her support for passage of the compromise bill (A-3424) that passed the Assembly today and runs to 2017:

Holly Schepisi

“I am pleased the Speaker and the administration have agreed with the basic premise of the original bill that keeps the two percent award limit in place. Reforms such as interest arbitration, enacting the two percent property tax cap levy and pension reform are essential in keeping taxes under control. Prior to its implementation, binding arbitration was a primary cause of the never-ending rise in the cost of local government. Today’s vote by the Assembly is an important step that will continue to benefit property taxpayers and assist local governments in keeping property taxes in check.”

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Schepisi’s “NJ Family Collaborative Law Act” a Better Way

Assembly Republican Press Release -

Legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, R-Bergen and Passaic, helping families resolve divorces and other legal disputes without resorting to litigation, was released by the Assembly Judiciary Committee today. The bill, A-1477, is known as the “New Jersey Family Collaborative Law Act.” Similar legislation has already been signed into law in eight states and the District of Columbia.

Holly Schepisi

“This helps reduce the backlog in family courts, saves taxpayers money and reduces costs for the families involved. It is a positive and proven alternative for family members to settle their differences in a non-confrontational way,” said Schepisi. “This is purely voluntary and parties do not give up any of their legal rights in this process. We should give families the tools that can help them work out their differences in good faith and avoid a prolonged settlement in the courts.”

The collaborative process is mostly utilized in family law, where the parties agree to settle their differences through negotiation. Each side can retain a lawyer of their choosing who assists in the process.

The success of the process is contingent on attorneys contractually limiting the scope of their representation to achieving resolution through the non-adversarial processes. Lawyers (and also their firms) enter into an agreement that if adversarial litigation ensues, both parties’ attorneys must withdraw from their representation.

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Republicans on Bridgegate Panel Zero In On Port Authority Practices

Source: NJ Spotlight -

Republican legislators who have been urging the Select Committee on Investigation to broaden its focus beyond the George Washington Bridge lane closures got their wish yesterday, as Democrats and Republicans alike grilled Port Authority Commissioner William “Pat” Schuber on how such an array of scandals could have beset the bistate agency.

Amy Handlin

Assemblywoman Amy Handlin (R-Monmouth) led Republicans in zeroing in on the Port Authority’s questionable payments to an architect for unsolicited work, excessive real estate holdings in Jersey City, conflict of interest policies, failure to adequately pursue reports of ethics violations, and the wisdom of doling out special grants to municipalities instead of using whatever money is available for needed airport and infrastructure repairs.

It marked the first time since the formation of the committee more than four months ago that the panel’s four Republican legislators devoted their energies not to defending the Christie administration’s response to Bridgegate and questioning the purpose of the committee, but to aggressively going after Port Authority mismanagement — which they have been arguing should be the panel’s primary focus.

Sen. Kevin O’Toole (R-Essex), Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s closest ally on the panel, urged Schuber to make sure that agency at least examines the merits of breaking up the Port Authority into two separate state agencies – as both Christie and New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo suggested as a possibility.

But O’Toole also suggested the idea of having Port Authority commissioners and top executives go before judiciary committees in both the New York and New Jersey Senate, and banning Port Authority commissioners from making political contributions.

Handlin, who has been the most vocal advocate of pushing through Port Authority reform legislation immediately rather than waiting for the conclusion of the Bridgegate investigations, questioned how the Port Authority could vote to pay $500,000 to an architect for unsolicited drawings for the Goethals Bridge reconstruction project at the suggestion of Port Authority Commissioners Anthony Sartor and David Steiner.

Handlin questioned “whether the Port Authority routinely paid people off to avoid a lawsuit” — the reason suggested for the payment — and was clearly unhappy that Schuber didn’t remember anything about the payment.

She also cited the $400 million lawsuit filed by Jersey City challenging the Port Authority’s accumulation of millions of dollars worth of tax-exempt properties, charging that “the Port Authority amasses property like a billionaire collects art.”

Michael Patrick Carroll

Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll (R-Monmouth) targeted the Port Authority’s squandering of money on grants to municipalities for studies when John F. Kennedy Airport and other Port facilities are in such dire need of infrastructure work, and the Port Authority’s failure to curb police overtime — a “labor abuse,” as he put it, that led to one police officer earning $331,000 in a single year.

Holly Schepisi

And Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-Bergen) noted that existing Port Authority ethics rules require commissioners to recuse themselves in cases where their law firm has an interest in an issue — an apparent, if unnamed, slap at former Port Authority Chairman David Samson, who is reportedly under investigation by the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York and by the New Jersey Ethics Commission on various conflict-of-interest allegations involving his Wolff and Samson law firm.

Schuber — like Michael Drewniak, Christina Genovese Renna , and Matt Mowers, the three current and former Christie administration officials who testified under oath before the committee before him – denied any advance knowledge of the September 9-13 George Washington Bridge lane closures.

Like Drewniak and high-ranking Christie administration officials interviewed by Randy Mastro’s law firm as part of an internal investigation commissioned by Christie, Schuber said he regarded a September 19 complaint by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) — as well as Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye’s September 13 letter alleging that the lane closures might have broken federal and state law — as examples of unjustified political partisanship.

“It was a gubernatorial election year. There was a high degree of partisanship,” said Schuber, who added he “didn’t want to get in the middle of it.”

Schuber noted, however, that he was the only Port Authority official who responded in any way to the allegations, calling Fort Lee Democratic Mayor Mark Sokolich — the alleged target of Bridgegate because of his refusal to endorse Christie’s reelection — because he was concerned about the Port Authority’s failure to properly notify local officials of the lane closures. He also called back Weinberg.

“I decided to surprise her with a direct call and tell her I was disappointed she had made it personal,” Schuber said in an email to Samson. “I don’t think she expected that. I think she has never gotten over our 1998 Race!”

Schuber was referring to his defeat of Weinberg in the 1998 Bergen County Executive election.

One of the surprises of the hearing was the release of an email from Samson to Schuber: “Pat: I received a copy of Loretta’s 9/19 letter to you about her being ‘disappointed . . . on a personal level.’ What a jerk!”

Weinberg – who famously was the target of Christie’s suggestion that the press “take the bat out on her” — shrugged off Samson’s comment.

“I’ve been called a jerk by bigger men,” she said.

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Schepisi Ponders Alternative Theory as NJ Bridge Panel Sets to Hear More Testimony

Source: CNN Political Ticker -

A New Jersey legislative committee investigating the orchestrated lane closures at the George Washington Bridge will hear more testimony on Tuesday.

Holly Schepisi

 

“We’ve spent uncounted millions of dollars and uncounted hours to secure documents and testimony of people who clearly were not involved,” said Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi.

 

Matt Mowers, a former campaign staffer for Gov. Chris Christie who now runs the New Hampshire GOP, will be the third person to testify under oath in Trenton as lawmakers look into allegations of abuse of authority.

While the committee already heard from Christie’s spokesman Michael Drewniak and former staffer Christina Renna, committee members are no closer to learning who gave the order to realign lanes at the toll plaza than they were before they began hearing testimony.

That has Republican members of the committee frustrated over the investigation’s pace and process.

“We’ve spent uncounted millions of dollars and uncounted hours to secure documents and testimony of people who clearly were not involved,” said Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, one of four Republicans on the joint bipartisan committee.

Schepisi complains that Democrats who lead the committee are calling on people who have no knowledge of the execution of the lane closures or what precipitated the realignment.

As the Christie campaign’s point of contact for Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, Mowers actively sought the Democrat’s endorsement. According to Christie’s internal investigation, Mowers went to his boss, campaign manager Bill Stepien, and others as soon as a Wall Street Journal reporter asked him about the bridge lane closures.

“What are we going to find out from Matt Mowers? He has said he has no knowledge with respect to what happened,” Schepisi said.

“We will not rush to judgment,” said Assemblyman John Wisniewksi, Democratic co-chair of the Select Committee on Investigation. “We will continue to work methodically and deliberatively until we are confident we have a clear understanding of how this abuse of power came to happen…and are able to assure the public that it will never happen again.”

Wisniewski pointed out that the committee has heard from only two people so far, yet the hearings already “produced testimony that undermines the credibility of the governor’s own report on the lane closures and the governor’s statements about when he first learned about his administration’s involvement.”

Republican members of the committee are pressing Wisniewksi and Democratic co-chair state Sen. Loretta Weinberg to subpoena people who were working at the bridge when the lane closures took place in September. Schepisi also wants the committee to hear from Sokolich. The mayor, a Democrat, questioned whether the traffic jam in his town was created because he wouldn’t endorse Christie’s re-election campaign.

But Schepisi has an alternative theory. She points to an email that Mayor Sokolich sent to former Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni, a Christie appointee, pleading for help with gridlock in Fort Lee. As he asked for Port Authority police to man intersections in his town Sokolich wrote on November 9th, 2010 that if they didn’t get some help from the agency, “we find ourselves with no other alternative other than to direct the Chief of Police to completely close off our local roads” to traffic from outside Fort Lee heading to the George Washington Bridge.

“This is an action that I would rather not take; however, we find ourselves with no other alternative,” wrote Sokolich.

Schepisi wonders if this email is one of many in a prolonged exchange that turned into a tit-for-tat with David Wildstein of the Port Authority, the alleged architect of the lane closures, ultimately taking action against Sokolich out of some sort of personal animus.

“How many conversations were had prior to and after this letter between the Port Authority and Fort Lee to discuss these traffic issues?” asked Schepisi.

Emails from the Port Authority’s chief traffic engineer and others at the agency show that in August they were making plans for a lane realignment at the toll plaza.

Republican members of the committee believe the only way they’ll get the answers they seek is if they hear from Sokolich and people who were working at the bridge at the time.

Wisniewksi said that many of the specific people the Republicans asked the committee to call already testified under oath at the end of last year and that testimony is part of the public record. As for Sokolich, Wisniewksi said the mayor is a victim of whatever happened, and while they may speak to him in the future “he can only offer speculation about what happened and how.”

The committee may never find out who gave the order to close the lanes and why because Wildstein and Christie’s former deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly have invoked their Fifth Amendment rights. The two had a now-infamous email exchange in which Kelly wrote, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” and Wildstein replied, “Got it.”

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Schepisi, Republicans have alternative theory about GWB lane closure [video]

Holly Schepisi

Source: NJTV News [video] -

“There was a traffic study. We have documents pertaining to a traffic study. We have e-mails in which up to 15, 20 people in the Port Authority were copied on a traffic study. ” – Asw. Holly Schepisi

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Schepisi discusses GWB panel as Drewniak prepares to testify

Holly Schepisi

Source: MSNBC -

Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, one of the Republican members of the Legislative Select Committee on Investigation, was a guest on MSNBC’s “Up with Steve Kornacki.”

“The problem with the subpoenas from the very beginning, the subpoenas were over-broad. We had Judge Jacobon’s ruling because of it. I could have saved the committee half a million dollars if they had actually listened to me.” – Asw. Holly Schepisi

 

 

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Republicans act and react to SCI hearing

Source: NJ Spotlight -

Christie, Cuomo appoint their own panel to recommend Port Authority reforms in 60 days, undercutting legislative committee

Christina Genovese Renna, the first witness to testify before the Legislature’s Select Committee on Investigation regarding Bridgegate, yesterday depicted a governor’s office where orders flowed top-down in a strict hierarchy; where the lines between governmental and political activity were blurred; and where she was afraid she would lose her job if she reported her boss, Bridget Kelly, had asked her to destroy an incriminating email.

It was a governor’s office where Christie’s 2009 campaign manager, Bill Stepien, used voter data to generate a top 100 list of municipalities to get special attention from the Office of Inter-Governmental Affairs he headed. The assumption was that Christie could then win more votes in those towns in his 2013 reelection campaign, Renna confirmed.

While the Select Committee on Investigation has been focusing on what the governor’s office knew about Bridgegate with Christie press secretary Michael Drewniak to follow Renna in the witness chair next Tuesday, Christie and Republican legislators yesterday launched a broad counter-offensive in an apparent attempt to undercut the public investigation by the legislative committee:

Christie and Cuomo yesterday announced the appointment of a Special Panel on the Future of the Port Authority to be made up of four Port Authority commissioners appointed by the governors, plus their chief counsels, to make recommendations within 60 days on how to restructure the bistate agency.

Sen. Kevin O’Toole (R-Essex), Christie’s top ally on the Select Committee on Investigation, yesterday unsuccessfully urged the panel to ask Christie’s attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor to look into alleged leaks of documents by the committee.

Holly Schepisi

Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-Bergen) yesterday urged the panel to subpoena a half-dozen Port Authority employees with knowledge of the Bridgegate closures — three of whom already testified under oath before the Assembly Transportation Committee in December — in a move aimed at shifting the committee’s focus from the governor’s office to the operations of the Port Authority.

Jon Bramnick

And Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Union) yesterday renewed the call for the 12-member Select Committee on Investigation, which has an eight-to-four Democratic majority, to be reconstituted with equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans, noting that U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) urged the same for a panel being established to investigate the deaths of four Americans at the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya.

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