LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

GWB Lane Closure Legal Bills Climb; Both Sides Point Fingers

By David Cruz
Correspondent

It might surprise some to know that the bills for the investigation into the lane closures at the GWB almost three years ago are still coming in. But they are, and the chairman of the so-called Bridgegate Committee says they deserve closer scrutiny.

Over $10 million to Gibson Dunn, the law firm hired by the Christie administration, another couple million for the legislative committee investigation and over a million in legal fees for state employees forced to testify about it. Who’s keeping track of all this? Assemblyman John Wisniewski who headed up the so-called Bridgegate Committee, says Gibson Dunn over-billed the state.

“One attorney in a single day is not allowed to bill more than 10 hours, or having multiple attorneys attend the same deposition or interview. Those rules were not complied with,” charged Wisniewski. “And then they exceeded the maximum number of hours for many attorneys, over many days, and had multiple attorneys attending the same event. When you look at all of those violations, it comes up to about a half million dollars.”

Add to that $2 million for an outside digital forensics firm hired by Gibson Dunn and — Wisniewski says — it’s a lot of money for a report that the judge in the pending bridge closure trial criticized.

“The word chutzpah comes to mind when you’re talking about other people’s bills when you haven’t put your own house in order,” scoffed Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll, a Republican member of the select committee. “When they hired counsel they repeatedly had more than one person in the room. We didn’t see the bills for months, sometimes at all. We haven’t seen a bill since March 2014.”

The attorney general’s office told us today that Gibson Dunn had not violated any guidelines but wouldn’t say if the AG had granted any waivers to the firm. Wisniewski said — even years after the GWB scandal broke — there’s still much to learn.

“Well, what’s clear is that there are undiscovered facts that need to be probed further,” he concluded.

Carroll said he agrees with Wisniewski for the most part. “It’s a wonderful idea,” he said. “There are lots of things in this state that need to be investigated, the Port Authority primary among them. It’s a nest of adders which could use a good cleaning out. But there are lots of other things; for example the Newark Water Authority could certainly have used some legislative attention. The Delaware Bridge and Tunnel Authority could use some attention. There’s lots of places where we as a Legislature could use subpoena authority and find out where public money is being spent or where things have gone wrong, and why.”

Don’t expect a new special committee on investigations any time soon. Legislative leaders have been told to wait until the trial is over before they even consider re-forming. And that trial won’t even begin, at best, until May.