TRENTON- A judge has ordered New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine to publicly release hundreds of e-mails he exchanged with a state worker union leader who was once his lover.
In his ruling, Superior Court Judge Paul Innes said the e-mails were public records.
The decision yesterday is a blow to Corzine, who wanted e-mails that he exchanged with ex-girlfriend Carla Katz during state-worker contract talks in 2006 and 2007 to be kept private.
"The relationship created a clear potential for conflict," Innes wrote. "These types of communications would be the sort of communications the Supreme Court felt the public had the right of access to understand and evaluate the reasonableness of the public body's actions."
New Jersey Republican Party chairman Tom Wilson filed suit to make the e-mails public, alleging that the relationship could have tainted negotiations.
Wilson's attorney, Mark Sheridan, said the order requires Corzine to release at least 745 documents within two weeks, though no exact date has been set.
"Now the public can finally judge for themselves whether Gov. Corzine acted in our interest or whether he violated the public interest because of his personal relationship with Carla Katz," Wilson said.
Corzine, a Democrat, contends the e-mails are private under privileges afforded governors.
Attorney General Anne Milgram said the governor will appeal and ask the release of the e-mails be stayed.
But an appellate court yesterday quickly denied a request by the state to redact parts of the ruling that indicate how many e-mails Corzine turned over to Innes.
"We believe that the judge's decision significantly undercuts the long-standing executive privilege in a way that harms the office of the governor and harms the ability of future governors to do their jobs effectively," Milgram said.
Ed McBride, Corzine's general counsel, said the governor would follow Milgram's advice on how to proceed.
"This case has never been about hiding anything," McBride added. "The governor has nothing to hide."
If that's that case, Wilson said, Corzine should immediately release the e-mails.
"If he has nothing at all to hide, then he shouldn't have to take any further steps to hide all that nothing," he said.
The judge ruled not all the communications should be released - 55 documents were deemed privileged and could be withheld - because Katz "can still operate as an advisor to the governor on topics which do not concern state employees, their unions or collective negotiations."
But Innes wrote: "The public has a right to know whether the relationship between the governor and Ms. Katz had any improper influence on the governor's paramount obligation to serve the interest of the citizens of New Jersey first."
Sidney Lehmann, Katz's attorney, said they will appeal.
"We continue to believe that these e-mails, sent with the expectation of privacy, should rightfully remain private," he said. "We believe that the court's ruling is wrong. We will appeal it and continue to vigorously fight for the time-honored rights to confidentiality and privacy."
Wilson filed suit on May 31, 2007, asking to make the e-mails public, after he and several news organizations were denied access to the e-mails.
In 2007, Corzine said he stopped using e-mail because of the lawsuit.
In March, an Associated Press investigation showed while e-mail and text-messaging has become a hugely popular way to communicate throughout society, governments at all levels are often unwilling to let the public see the e-mails of their elected officials.
Officially, e-mails in New Jersey and a handful of states are treated like paper documents and subject to public-information requests. But most of these states have rules allowing them to choose which e-mails to turn over, and most decide on their own when e-mail records are deleted, the AP report showed.
Katz - president of Communications Workers of America Local 1034, which represents about 10,000 state workers - gained attention during Corzine's successful 2005 gubernatorial when it was revealed she once dated the multimillionaire Corzine and that he paid off the mortgage on her house and gave her other gifts they have refused to disclose.
Katz, 48, dated Corzine from 2002 to 2004 when the Democrat was a U.S. senator. He became governor in January 2006. *