NJ political football: Murphy hires ‘Deflategate’ lawyer to fight Norcross
Gov. Phil Murphy hired the attorney who led the National Football League's investigation into New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to represent him in a lawsuit brought by the state's most powerful unelected Democrat.
Murphy said Thursday he hired attorney Ted Wells in the suit brought by George Norcross and several companies over Murphy's investigation into tax credits.
Wells led the NFL's 2015 investigation in the so-called Deflategate scandal about whether Brady tampered with balls before the AFC title game.
Wells is charging $395 an hour.
Norcross, who is also a powerful business tycoon, is enraged that the governor’s task force to investigate billions of dollars in tax incentives handed out by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority is looking at some of the companies he controls or is aligned with.
The lawsuit, filed against Murphy and the task force, claims the panel has overstepped its legal bounds.
Attorneys representing Norcross insist the task force was formed unlawfully and is singling our several companies Norcross and his brother Philip are connected with.
In an emailed statement, Murphy chief counsel Matt Platkin said “given the importance of the task force and the fact that the lawsuit is a clear attempt to shut it down, we thought it important to hire one of the nation’s best litigators to defend the Governor and the task force, and to ensure the investigation continues unhindered.”
The fight began even before Murphy was elected, when he failed to fully support South Jersey Democratic state Senate president Steve Sweeney, a longtime ally of Norcross, in his re-election bid that was challenged by the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s teachers union.
Ever since then there has been a not-so subtle agitation between the Norcross-Sweeney camp and Murphy.
A few weeks ago, Norcross went so far as to accuse Murphy of acting stupidly and recklessly, like he was the "King of England," because he thinks he doesn’t have to answer to anybody.
In Mount Laurel on Thursday, where Murphy was touting his plan for a new millionaires tax during an event trumpeting the Community College Opportunity Grant Program, the governor was asked if his battle with Norcross (and thus with Sweeney as well) has made it difficult for him to push through a tax hike for millionaires or other programs he supports.
Murphy did not answer the question directly, but said he sees the whole issue “through a different dimension” than others.
Murphy explained that right after he was elected he asked state Comptroller Phil Degnan to look into the EDA’s tax incentive program, and the audit that was conducted could not account for 20% of the jobs that were supposed to have been created from those tax breaks.
Murphy said he then felt compelled to put together a task force to dig deeper and find out what happened.
“I’m responsible for every penny that taxpayers give us and that we then invest. The criticism should have been overwhelming if I had not taken up the baton," he said.
The governor seemed to suggest he is not singling out companies associated with Norcross to be investigated.
“There’s no geography that we’re after, there’s no company that we’re after, there’s no individual we’re after .. For me, what am I after, what’s my endgame? The truth.”
"I want to find out where every penny went, and that’s all it’s about — period, full stop.”
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com