By Candace Kelley
$1.1 million. That’s the Christie administration’s legal bill so far for an internal review of the George Washington Bridge scandal. And New Jersey taxpayers will foot the bill.
“I think it’s ridiculous that we are using taxpayers’ money, but we need to get to the bottom of it,” said Shana Jones of Montclair.
“It’s really unbelievable how somebody can go investigate themselves,” said Joseph Messing.
The million dollar invoice comes from Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher. But attorneys at the firm say they charged the state only $350 an hour. That’s half off the originally agreed upon $650 an hour. Such a deal because the case involved much more work than anticipated — 38 attorneys and paralegals who billed over 3,000 hours.
The law firm that conducted the internal review of the George Washington Bridge scandal billed the state from Jan. 12 to Jan. 31, but the final report was issued in March, which means more bills are coming.
And along with those bills, NJPIRG wants more transparency, some hard facts.
“We think that government should be more transparent both about how it’s spending its money and in the proceedings in government. New Jersey actually just received a C+ for transparency in our annual report that we do on government spending transparencies,” said NJPIRG Executive Director Jennifer Kim.
The ACLU agrees. Just last week, it filed a lawsuit against the Christie administration for allegedly denying access to records generated by the Bridgegate debacle.
For now, the state’s legal bills are being paid by taxpayer money plus whatever the Christie administration can raise through campaign funds. That’s because none of the subpoenas target Gov. Christie personally, just his campaign.
“The commission allows the Christie campaign to raise more money for that purpose because it is considered to be a campaign expense but subject to contribution limits. In other words, if an individual has given up to $3,800 to the campaign they would be prohibited from making any further contributions,” explained New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission Executive Director Jeff Brindle.
And the legal bills just keep on coming. The special legislative committee investigating the bridge scandal received a $725,000 bill from its attorneys. The state’s also paying legal bills for five current and former administration staffers as they answer subpoenas from both the committee and the U.S. Attorney. As the investigation continues, more legal invoices will find their way to the governor’s desk.