According to Mother Jones, media outlets have been forced to sue to obtain even routinely disclosed information, such as payroll data.
Rather than release documents connected to Bridge-gate, pay-to-play allegations, possible ethics violations, and the out-of-state trips Christie has made while looking at a run for president, Chris Christie’s office and several state agencies have waged costly court battles.
As the 2016 presidential primary race draws closer, and Christie considers jumping in, his administration is fighting 23 different open records requests in court.
“The track record is abysmal,” says Jennifer Borg, general counsel for the North Jersey Media Group.
Her organization, which publishes The Record, has sued the state for public documents a half-dozen times since Christie took office. When a judge determines that the state withheld records illegally—which happens frequently—her group wins legal fees. As of September 2014, Christie’s administration had paid $441,000 to North Jersey Media Group and other media outlets for records. And that doesn’t count the cost of government lawyers’ time.
The fight has become expensive for the state because when newspapers go to court for these records, they usually win. But winning doesn’t automatically produce the sought-after records.
“We can and do beat them in court. But as long as they’re appealing—I don’t want to call it a Pyrrhic victory, but we’re not going to get the records,” says Walter Luers, an attorney who helped a transparency project run by the state Libertarian Party sue for public access for Christie’s travel expenses.
“Appeals take two to three years. We’re already into the presidential elections. By the time we get these records, Christie could have a new address.”
Christie’s reluctance to let these records go is understandable. On Tuesday, for example, The New York Times published an investigation of expensive trips, sponsored by donors and foreign leaders, that the governor has taken abroad. Some of those accounts were based on public documents that local newspapers obtained through lawsuits.