Lawyers mum after subpoena hearing

Lawyers mum after subpoena hearing

02/15/07 Asbury Park Press

TRENTON — Lawyers for the U.S. Attorney's Office and state Office of Legislative Services said nothing publicly Wednesday after a closed-door, 80-minute hearing before a federal judge about a subpoena that the OLS is reportedly blocking.

The two sides met before U.S. District Judge Mary Cooper concerning a subpoena related to a grand jury investigation of whether lawmakers used their positions to illegally steer state grants to entities for personal or political profit. The probe began as an examination of state Sen. Wayne Bryant, D-Camden, but could include others.

Three groups of lawyers representing different interests left the room seemingly bound by court order to keep the grand-jury proceeding sealed.

"I can't discuss anything," William Fitzpatrick, one of two Camden-based assistant United States attorneys, said as he made his way to the elevator.

Fifteen minutes later, Edward J. Dauber, a private lawyer hired by the OLS, offered a similar response: "Sorry, can't discuss anything."

Asked if he was forbidden by the judge to talk, Dauber said, "I'm not discussing anything."

The OLS, which has been questioned by Republicans for hiring Dauber without authorization from a legislative panel that oversees the office, released a copy of Dauber's contract a day after Gannett New Jersey asked to see it. Under law, state government must produce certain documents, such as contracts, immediately upon request.

The contract, a letter from Dauber to OLS Executive Director Albert Porroni, was dated Jan. 18 and concerns "Subpoena from United State's Attorney's Office."

It sets a rate of $275 per hour, or $300 an hour for court sessions, plus expenses.

Assembly Republicans have called for the OLS to fully comply with the federal investigation and want a public hearing to discover who authorized Dauber's hiring, who decided not to respond to the U.S. attorney's request and which lawmakers were briefed on the investigation. The Republicans also have sent a letter to U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie offering to turn over any documents they might have.

"All thirty-one Republican members of the State Assembly have indicated their desire that you be afforded any and all documents relevant to your inquiry," wrote Mark Sheridan, a lawyer for the Assembly Republicans.

Sheridan and staff counsel for the Assembly Republicans, making it clear Dauber is not representing their interest in the matter, tried to intervene in Wednesday's court proceedings, but they were escorted out by a court officer after about 15 minutes, also seemingly under a gag order.

Republicans now are hoping to bypass Senate President Richard J. Codey and Assembly Speaker Joseph J. Roberts Jr., who co-chair the Legislative Services Commission, by getting one Democrat on the panel to join their call for a meeting.

"It's total chaos," Assemblyman Kevin O'Toole, R-Essex, said. "It just creates the image, rightly or wrongly, this sense that there's people who want to keep a lid on a potentially explosive situation."

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