N.J. paying employees' legal fees in bridge probe

Posted: April 16, 2014

TRENTON - New Jersey is paying five law firms $340 an hour to represent individual state employees in connection with the legislative probe into the lane closures at the George Washington Bridge and, in some cases, inquiries from federal prosecutors, according to documents released Monday.

The names of the employees are redacted from the retention agreements, released to The Inquirer late Monday afternoon by the state Attorney General's Office.

Christie's former campaign manager, Bill Stepien, is among the employees, lawyer Kevin Marino confirmed. The state will pay Stepien's legal fees in connection with his time working for the state before joining Christie's campaign in April 2013.

Two other lawyers who will be paid by the state have been representing the governor's press secretary, Michael Drewniak, and Christina Genovese Renna, who served as an aide to Bridget Anne Kelly, the deputy chief of staff fired by Christie after it was revealed she sent the "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" e-mail.

Anthony Iacullo, who is representing Drewniak, and Henry Klingeman, who represents Renna, could not be reached for comment.

The firm that has been representing Kelly was not listed among the five hired by the state.

Lee Moore, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office, said Monday that the state had received additional requests from employees for legal counsel and that those requests were under consideration.

State law and judicial precedent "afford state employees a presumption in favor of state-funded representation when civil matters relate to actions taken within the scope of their employment," Moore said in a statement.

The state will reimburse work done by the five firms and "others subsequently retained to represent state employees" at a rate of $340 an hour, with invoices "carefully" reviewed by the Division of Law, Moore said.

He noted that the retention agreement for Marino was "expressly limited to addressing only that portion of a legislative subpoena covering the time period when that firm's client was a state employee."

Subpoenas issued by the legislative committee investigating the September lane closures seek documents and communications dating to September 2012, while Stepien was working as Christie's deputy chief of staff.

Stepien and Kelly recently won a court battle over their refusal to comply with the subpoenas.

Stepien also has been named as a defendant in two lawsuits filed by individuals who say they were inconvenienced by the lane closures, Marino said. The state will not reimburse Stepien for legal fees in those cases because he was not a state employee at the time of the traffic jams.

The Legislature has received legal bills totaling about $300,000 for services rendered through February, according to invoices provided to The Inquirer in response to a public-records request.

The Attorney General's Office has said it has not yet received any bills from Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, the law firm hired by Christie to investigate the lane closures.

The firm, which recently released a report clearing Christie and his top staff of wrongdoing in the lane closures and in response to Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer's allegations about distribution of Hurricane Sandy aid, was retained by the state at a cost of $650 an hour.


mhanna@phillynews.com

609-989-8990 @maddiehanna

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