The state Attorney General’s Office asked a judge Wednesday to dismiss a lawsuit New Jersey’s top election watchdog filed against Gov. Phil Murphy in April.
Jeff Brindle had accused the governor of orchestrating a legislative overhaul of the state’s campaign finance law last spring to oust him from his longtime job as executive director of the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.
Brindle challenged the constitutionality of the new law, which empowered the governor to directly appoint ELEC commissioners instead of recommend appointees who then must be considered and approved by the state Senate, as happens for most other gubernatorial appointments. That made the law “special legislation” applicable to just his commission and unallowable under the state’s constitution, Brindle argued.
Brindle also challenged the law’s new shortened statute of limitations, which set a two-year deadline for the commission to investigate and resolve election law complaints, down from 10 years. The commission was forced to toss almost half its active investigations in July to comply with the new law.
But state attorneys argued in a motion filed Wednesday in state Superior Court that the state constitution doesn’t specifically dictate how commission appointments should be made and authorizes the Legislature to allow direct gubernatorial appointments without Senate approval.
They also rejected Brindle’s concern about special legislation.
“Time and again New Jersey’s courts have emphasized that even ‘class of one’ statutes are constitutional,” they wrote. “Yet plaintiff contends that if a law focuses on one administrative agency while not mentioning others, it is therefore unconstitutional. He is wrong.”
Legislators could shorten the deadline on the commission’s cases because “both ELEC and the laws it enforces, including the applicable statutes of limitations, are creations of the Legislature. The Legislature may alter those statutes as it deems prudent,” the state’s attorneys argued.
Brindle’s lawsuit is “already or soon will be moot” because he plans to retire in November anyway, the attorneys added.
But attorney Bruce Afran, who represents Brindle, said it’s far from moot because Brindle still works at the commission and the commissioners, who Murphy appointed in June, will outlast Brindle.
“The method of appointment is being challenged, and the court can issue a remedy and order that they be appointed through the normal advice and consent of the Senate,” Afran said.
Afran doubled down on Brindle’s contention that the law was drafted illicitly to oust him.
“This was a special change in appointment only for ELEC and only for 90 days, following all the governor’s efforts to get rid of Jeff Brindle, and that demonstrates that it’s special legislation and therefore unconstitutional,” Afran said.
Brindle, who has headed the commission for 15 years, first came under fire last fall, when he sent an email to a staff member that the Murphy administration deemed discriminatory. Former commissioners cleared him of wrongdoing in March, but legislators moved quickly to revamp the commission and its appointment process in the wake of the scandal.
Afran has three weeks to file a response to the state’s motion, and oral arguments are set for Oct. 20. Brindle filed a separate lawsuit against Murphy in March, claiming professional damages.
Source: New Jersey Monitor