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Appeals court says governor's e-mails private

Gov. Jon Corzine won a round Monday in his fight to keep private his e-mail exchanges with a union leader he once dated.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Gov. Jon Corzine won a round Monday in his fight to keep private his e-mail exchanges with a union leader he once dated.

A New Jersey appeals court reversed a lower court ruling requiring the e-mails to be made public and authorizing a judge to inspect the communications.

The Democratic governor has been fighting to keep the correspondence between himself, his staff and Carla Katz private since the e-mails were requested by a Republican leader and several news organizations, including The Associated Press.

Executive privilege covers e-mails
A three-judge appeals panel said the e-mails are covered by executive privilege, which allows officials to withhold certain information in the interest of governing.

"The release of confidential e-mails may have a chilling effect on the governor's ability or willingness to solicit advice, or to accept unsolicited advice in the future," the three-judge panel wrote.

GOP lawyer Mark Sheridan said he expected a decision soon from the plaintiff, Republican State Committee Chairman Tom Wilson, on whether to appeal the unanimous ruling to the Supreme Court.

"We're certainly disappointed in the decision," Sheridan said. "It seems to grant the governor the absolute privilege to act in secrecy."

Attorney General Anne Milgram argued that Corzine would not be able to govern effectively if his private communications were open to the public. Sheridan argued that the public has a right to view e-mails the governor's office and Katz exchanged during state worker contract talks.

Katz is president of the largest state worker local, Communications Workers of America Local 1034. She dated Corzine before he became governor.

Wilson sought disclosure of all e-mails that were not strictly personal or concerning general state business. He questioned whether the state worker contract negotiations were tainted by the relationship between Corzine and Katz.

Court not persuaded
The appeals court was not persuaded by Wilson's contention that the public could decide, by viewing the e-mails, whether the governor and Katz acted appropriately during contract talks with the state worker unions.

"Stripped to its basic terms, Wilson has articulated no more than a suspicion of conduct that may reveal flawed judgment but does not implicate criminal misconduct," the court wrote.

Corzine has said no backdoor negotiations took place. Katz, however, argued that the e-mails should remain private because they involve contract talks, which are exempt from Open Public Records Act requests.

That argument infuriated CWA, which claimed in legal papers that Katz and Corzine broke the law if they engaged in collective bargaining via e-mail exchanges.

CWA relieved Katz of her duties as president in July, alleging financial mismanagement of the local. She and her executive board remain suspended; however, Katz has not been removed from her position and is fighting the suspension.