JERSEY CITY, N.J.—The former chairman of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey has filed a lawsuit seeking to stop an ethics inquiry against him and his law firm, as lawmakers and the bi-state agency’s own board members continued to wrestle with instituting new ethics reforms.
David Samson, a former New Jersey state attorney general who was put in charge of the powerful Port Authority by Gov. Chris Christie, filed the lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court in Trenton. He resigned his post earlier this year amid questions about whether he used it to help his law firm’s clients.
He asserts in the lawsuit that the New Jersey State Ethics Commission has no jurisdiction over his former role at the Port Authority because, under its compact, the Authority is a bi-state agency and not governed by the laws of either state unless both states enact identical legislation.
“There is no provision for the unilateral application of any of New Jersey’s statutes,” the lawsuit contends. It goes on to state that issues of conflicts of interest and recusals are dealt with by the Port Authority’s internal code of ethics.
The lawsuit was filed a day before lawmakers from both states held a news conference to urge Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign reform legislation passed by both states that would address those issues.
At the Port Authority’s monthly board meeting Wednesday, board members didn’t comment directly on Samson’s lawsuit but held a scheduled discussion on how to strengthen the agency’s policies to address conflicts of interest.
The agency has spent the last several months reviewing its ethics policies in the wake of the scandal surrounding the apparently politically motivated lane closures at the George Washington Bridge in 2013.
“We’re very focused on recusals, we’re very focused on transparency and we’ve asked general counsel to work on re-establishing and refining our code of ethics,” Port Authority Vice Chairman Scott Rechler said.
Samson received scrutiny after revelations early this year that another Port Authority official, along with an aide to Christie, ordered the closing of access lanes to the bridge. For instance, while Samson was Port Authority chairman, New Jersey Transit received a $1-a-year lease from the Port Authority for a park-and-ride lot near the Lincoln Tunnel. The previous lease was for $900,000 annually.
Samson was recorded in meeting minutes as having voted to approve the deal even though, according to published reports, his law firm had represented New Jersey Transit. The Port Authority later explained that Samson meant to recuse himself but his vote was recorded incorrectly. After Samson resigned in late March, the Port Authority took steps to rescind the $1 lease.
In January, Democratic Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer alleged that Christie administration officials tied her city’s Superstorm Sandy aid to her approval of a redevelopment project whose developer was represented by Samson’s law firm.
Samson has declined to answer those allegations, but a report in March by a taxpayer-funded law firm hired by Christie’s office absolved Samson of any wrongdoing.
The New Jersey Working Families Alliance, a group of labor and consumer organizations, asked the State Ethics Commission in March for an investigation.
Samson said in the court filing that the Ethics Commission sent him requests for information in June and October and a subpoena in October.
From The Associated Press