Did Star-Ledger collude with Murphy A.G. to produce anti-ballot question headline?

Journalism isn’t what it once was.  Today, there is a revolving door between journalism, government, politics, and lobbying.  Today’s journalist is likely to be tomorrow’s political director.

Look at the case of Mark Magyar, one of Senate President Steve Sweeney's top aides.  In December of 2014, Magyar was hired as the Democrat's new Director of Policy and Communications.  Magyar had been a statehouse reporter for the Asbury Park Press and the Bergen Record, as well as the editor of the New Jersey Spotlight.

The corporate and political empire of Democrat Party boss George Norcross – the political machine of which the Senate President is a part – has a history of co-opting or attempting to co-opt local and regional newspapers in that part of New Jersey where his authoritarian rule is almost uncontested.  The machine is in the process of solidifying its rule in its southern New Jersey base, while expanding its power across the state – and beyond.

Mark Magyar is the spouse of Elizabeth K. Parker, Co-publisher and Executive Editor of the New Jersey Hills Media Group.  The group is controlled by the Recorder Publishing Company, a privately held entity in Bernardsville, that owns and publishes 17 local newspapers in Republican Morris County, Somerset County, and Hunterdon County -- and in Republican towns in Essex County.  Their readership comes from towns that usually get the short end of the sick from the Democrats in Trenton.  The company also sells other services, including website development, search engine optimization, "Reputation Management", and "Social Media Management".

Newspapers were never as pure and disinterested as their cheerleaders would have us believe, but at least – once upon a time/ just yesterday – they did constitute a locus of power independent of political machines.  Not necessarily of their corporate advertisers (per Herman and Chomsky), but certainly of base political machines.  Those days are drawing to a close.

We saw evidence of this on Saturday, when the office of Gurbir Grewal, the state Attorney General appointed by Governor Phil Murphy, conspired with Star-Ledger/ NJ.com reporter Rob Jennings to concoct a news headline the Murphy administration could use to undermine the people of Sussex County’s right to vote on Murphy’s Sanctuary State scheme.  At issue was a public question on the November ballot, passed by the Freeholders in April, that asks the voters their opinion on whether Sussex County Sheriff Mike Strada should follow American law on illegal immigration – or the directives of the Murphy administration.

The Democrat Murphy administration is arguing that Sussex County taxpayers should not have the right to vote on issues that affect the performance of county functions that they pay for entirely out of their highest-in-the-nation property taxes.  Taxation without the right to vote sounds pretty un-American to us.

Concurrent with plans to allow illegal aliens to have drivers licenses and to give incarcerated violent criminals the right to vote and hire lobbyists, the Murphy administration is using Grewal in an attempt to bully and intimidate the elected Freeholders of Sussex County into ending plans to allow the people the right to vote on a public question on the November ballot.  Popular sentiment across the state has been running against Murphy, so Grewal’s office was charged with finding a reporter who would provide them with a headline they could use.

Jennings, a former intern with Democrat Governor Mario Cuomo, was used to provide it.  Grewal’s office leaked confidential correspondence to Jennings, who promptly wrote a story with the headline:  “Sussex County caves to Murphy AG, will not put immigration question on ballot.”  It was the journalistic equivalent of performing fellatio for Grewal’s office.

Of course, the headline was false.  Jennings lied.  The Star-Ledger printed fake news.  Only the County Clerk had “caved”.  In fact, the County Freeholder Board had hired a conservative attorney less than 48 hours before to fight the Murphy administration.  This special counsel was charged with creating an updated ballot question with language that defeats the legal objections raised by the Murphy administration, so that Murphy and his cronies cannot hold up its placement on the ballot through legal maneuverings.

Jennings refused to write about it.  Even after he was contacted by Freeholders and the Special Counsel, Jennings refused to correct or update his story.  The lie remained published.

Not only did Jennings break the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), but Grewal’s office may have broken its professional code as well.  Word is that both may face ethical enquiries.

Despite the false headline, the Sussex County Freeholders remain resolved to fight the Murphy administration, with or without the assistance of the County Clerk.  And the Freeholders could always bring a lawsuit to compel the Clerk to place the public question on the November ballot.

New Jersey is unique in its forms and ways of political corruption – especially of systemic corruption – in that it rides the wave just ahead of the rest of America.  Sadly, it appears that what we once called journalism is on a rapid descent into the realms of propaganda and in future will be little more than coarse party broadsheets -- advertisements using histrionics worthy of Pravda or the Völkischer Beobachter.

APP/Gannett: Reform money-grabbing municipal courts

With the ACLU and the NJ Bar Association conducting major studies of the corruption endemic to the New Jersey municipal courts system -- and the Legislature about to tackle the problem with hearings scheduled for early next year -- America's largest newspaper group has added its voice to the call for reform.  Over the weekend, the Asbury Park Press/ Gannett published the following editorial (printed in full because of its importance).

Once again, blogs like More Monmouth Musings and Sussex County Watchdog are asking for your assistance in uncovering and exposing local municipal court corruption.  If you have anything to pass along confidentially, please contact More Monmouth Musings at artvg@aol.com or Sussex County Watchdog at info@sussexcountywatchdog.com.

EDITORIAL: Reform money-grabbing municipal courts

New Jersey’s municipal courts have increasingly become more interested in cash than justice.

That’s what a Gannett New Jersey investigation has found, reinforcing long-held concerns that local officials view the courts primarily as revenue generators. That motivation influences the development of local ordinances and penalties and effectively pressures locally appointed prosecutors and judges to conduct court business with an eye toward maximizing fines.

The end result is a system that unfairly exploits residents to help balance local budgets. It’s a dirty business that needs to be cleaned up quickly, and to that end we’re encouraged by the reactions of some lawmakers, in particular Assemblyman John McKeon, D-Morris, chairman of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, who is already calling for a legislative examination of the court system in the wake of our report.

There’s nothing terribly new about the realization that money rules the municipal courts. We’ve heard such complaints for years, and rare is the person who hasn’t at some point railed against what feels like selective enforcement of traffic laws by police officers filling ticket quotas.

Disenchantment with the court system is inherent; people don’t often appear before a judge to contentedly pay fines they believe they deserve.

But as local budget burdens have increased, so too has the abuse of the municipal courts. For instance, in the Jersey Shore counties of Ocean and Monmouth, court revenue jumped 14 percent between 2010 and 2015. But perhaps more significantly, among the individual towns where increases occurred, the average hike during that same period was 39 percent. That tells us that while not every community is abusing the system, many are doing so outrageously, especially in smaller towns where the court revenue can build up to a substantial portion of the overall budget.

MORE: Town profits spiked under municipal judge

Defenders of the current system fall back on some familiar tropes, none of which deserve much credence:

If the fines bother you, don’t do anything wrong: Such expectation of perfection is egregiously self-righteous. We’re not talking about crimes here, but such heinous offenses as a lapsed dog license or an expired auto inspection sticker. People make mistakes, and while penalties are needed to assure compliance, that doesn’t explain the size of the fines and the frequency with which they are applied.

This is about safety, not money: No it’s not. Safety may be the theoretical underpinning of most of these ordinances and traffic laws, but that’s not how the process plays out in practice. A prime example had been the automated red-light cameras calibrated to issue as many tickets as possible at designated intersections. Legislators mercifully scrapped that program, at least for the time being.

Our judges and prosecutors are above reproach: While there are some bad apples, no doubt, this isn’t primarily about the court personnel. Even those with the best intentions understand that their marching orders from the local officials who appointed them are to squeeze residents for as much fine money as possible. That has to be in the backs of their minds, and their ability to continue in their posts may depend on that particular measure of success.

MORE: Judge Thompson suspended from nine Monmouth County jobs

Insulating the municipal judiciary in some fashion from those local pressures appears to be the most likely and most effective reform. Judges should not be forced to bow to local officials’ revenue grabbing just to keep their jobs; those who do the right thing and more definitively place justice first will merely be replaced, doing residents no good in the long run.

How best to achieve that independence, and overcoming what’s certain to be aggressive local resistance, remains the overriding question. The New Jersey State Bar Association has already been studying the problem, but has not yet released a report. Taking away local control of municipal judge and prosecutor appointments could be an option, as would a potential regionalization of the courts; under the current system, all fines from local ordinance violations go the municipality, while traffic fines are shared with the county. Spreading the fine proceeds more widely would reduce the local incentive.

Some locals who concede the value of the court revenue say it helps pay for services about which residents care, and that might otherwise have to be sacrificed — like trash pickup or snow plowing. That’s a convenient justification, but the perception would be different if the “sacrifice” was, for example, the trimming of some outrageous local salaries.

Regardless of the financial impact, however, a court system that emphasizes revenue collection to the degree of New Jersey’s municipal courts is failing residents. That has to change.


APP exposes corruption at NJ municipal courts

The Gannett publishing company is the largest in America by circulation -- reaching over 21 million people every day.  Its flagship in New Jersey is the Asbury Park Press (APP) -- the second most read newspaper in the state.

This week the Asbury Park Press has continued its watchdog investigations, this time focusing on the corruption in local municipal courts in New Jersey and the too cozy relationship between court employees and the local governments who pay their salaries.  Reporter Kala Kachmar is heading the APP's watchdog investigation.  She began her series...

"Somewhere in between burying her mother and taking care of her sick father in Maryland, Neptune resident Karen Marsh forgot to renew the licenses for her two rescue poodles.

Instead of paying the $17-per-dog renewal fee, she was compelled to spend a March day in municipal court and then pay $122 in fines and fees. The total would have been $178, but the judge suspended one of the fines in exchange for a guilty plea.

Marsh became prey to a system that increasingly treats hundreds of thousands of residents each year as human ATMs.

Many cash-strapped municipalities have turned to the law for new revenue...

Towns have the power to pass new rules or increase fines on old ones. And just like the singular judge-jury-and-jailer of the old Western days, a town first enforces the higher fines through its police force, then sends the defendant to its local court — which is headed by a judge appointed by the town leaders who started the revenue quest in the first place.

While municipal judges are sworn to follow the rule of law and judicial ethics, the pressure to bring in the money is potent in New Jersey, lawyers and former judges told the Press. In Eatontown, email records between town officials showed that increasing revenue generation by the local court was the main reason the council replaced the municipal judge in 2013..."

You can read the full report here:


A follow-up report explains that the New Jersey Legislature is planning to address the corruption at municipal courts, with the Chairman of the Assembly Judiciary Committee  calling the "fairness of the system into question" and for the Legislature to "study municipal court reform."  Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon (Republican Budget Officer) is promising to make it happen this year and plans on holding hearings across the state to understand the full extent of this local corruption -- case by case.  He calls the current system a "municipal money grab" and promises to explore "legal remedies."

According to the state Administrative Office of Courts, over 75 percent of the more than 4.5 million cases handled by municipal courts statewide are adjudicated with a guilty plea or a plea deal and some kind of payment to the court.  The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is currently studying how municipal court corruption impacts the state's residents, especially the poor.

The APP report notes that the New Jersey State Bar Association earlier this year assembled a panel to study the independence of municipal judges and whether the political pressure they face through their appointment impacts decision-making. The panel is still receiving testimony and hasn't yet disclosed its findings.

The APP report also notes that "the municipal court system can be altered or abolished by an act of the Legislature at any time."

It cites a former member of the New Jersey Supreme Court Committee on Municipal Courts, who said that "the first step in fixing the broken municipal court system is to professionalize staff."  Most prosecutors and judges are part-time employees who work in multiple towns. 

Blogs like More Monmouth Musings and Sussex County Watchdog have received tip-offs about local municipal corruption in the past.  If you have anything to pass along confidentially, please contact More Monmouth Musings at artvg@aol.com or Sussex County Watchdog at info@sussexcountywatchdog.com.

Does the NJ establishment hate Christ?

It is no longer about the separation of Church & State, if it ever was.  Last week we had two senior Senators, Ray Lesniak and Nia Gill (both Democrats), deny a member of the Christian clergy the right to even mention the word "God" at a public hearing.  This week, we catch public school officials including admonishments from "ALLAH" in official school materials.

Could it be clearer?  For folks like Lesniak and Gill, is ALLAH in fashion and Christ out of fashion?

Read the story below, courtesy of the Asbury Park Press (kudos to reporter Amanda Oglesby):

Barnegat school health handouts: Allah loves cleanliness

BARNEGAT – The father of a second-grader in the Cecil S. Collins School was alarmed to see references to hijabs and thawbs – clothing worn by religious Muslims – and a quote from the Quran included in a health and hygiene worksheet given to his daughter.

The worksheet included instruction about cleanliness and neatness not just of shoes and clothing but of a student's hijab and thawb, an ankle-length robe-like garment worn by Muslim men, according to pictures sent to the Asbury Park Press by Barnegat father Chris Sharpe.

The sheet also included a reference to a Quran quote that read "Allah loves those who make themselves clean and pure."

Read the full story here: http://tinyurl.com/zzs828p

Is Bob Jordan a Journalist or a Marketing Rep?

Writing about Governor Chris Christie's recent veto of two bills -- S816 (mandating distributors to sell so-called smart guns), and A3689 (codifying regulations on the justifiable need to carry) -- Asbury Park Press reporter Bob Jordan blamed the National Rifle Association (NRA).  Jordan wrote:

"The NRA pressured Christie to kill two bills including one that would have mandated distributors to sell so-called smart guns, which proponents say stem accidental shootings and 'child proof' weapons."

Sure, the NRA lobbied the Governor, but does mere lobbying make you responsible for the actions of an adult elected official?  When the LGBTQ movement lobbied President Obama and Hillary Clinton to change their position on same-sex marriage, were they "pressured" into adopting their new beliefs?

As Bob Jordan must know, "pressured" is a very charged word.  When Garden State Equality's Steve Goldstein issued a press release threatening to withhold "gay" money from the New Jersey Democratic State Committee unless Senate President Steve Sweeney and other Democratic Party leaders changed their position on same-sex marriage, were they being "pressured" into executing their eventual flip-flop?

"Pressured" conjures images of extortion and the NRA hasn't been particularly good at "pressuring" Governor Christie, who managed just a "C" rating with the NRA as Governor.  If a journalist is going to use words like "pressured," he or she should cite more than lobbying as evidence of that "pressure."

Reporter Jordan lamely tries with a quote from Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, a Democrat from Bergen County.  Assemblyman Johnson blames Christie's veto on, wait for it... the Governor's  "bid for the Republican presidential nomination and now his support of Donald Trump."  Wow, what a dickhead!  Maybe he hasn't heard that Christie's presidential campaign crashed and burned months ago.  As for Donald Trump, when did his campaign put out a position paper on S816 and A3689?

The Assemblyman goes on:  "The governor’s veto statement is alarmingly replete with right-wing political talking points and grandstanding."  Yes, and the Assemblyman's statement may be said to be "alarmingly replete with left-wing political talking points and grandstanding."  So what?  What do these cookie-cutter insults even mean that you and your brethren in the other party endlessly use? 

Assemblyman Johnson went on to say (and how he kept a straight face, we can't tell you):  “This bill was a start toward making our streets safer, particularly in our urban areas, but sadly, Gov. Christie has once again put his political ambitions above the public safety of New Jersey residents.  That’s shameful.” 

Listen, Assemblyman Dickful, why don't you try to enforce the laws against everything that is currently unlawful -- make those streets "safer" -- "particularly in our urban areas" by making illegal drugs unavailable, for a start.  Do that one thing, accomplish that, before making new laws to create new crimes that will be obeyed only by those who care to obey them, new laws that will force the police (government's men-with-guns) into greater confrontation with individuals in the community.

Assemblyman, unless you are prepared to post a police officer on every street in New Jersey, our citizens (urban, suburban, and rural) are pretty much their own first line of protection.  Leave them alone.  If you want to do something to make them safer, get the heroin that floods every community in this state off the streets.  There have been laws against that for nearly a century and you haven't got it done yet, have you?

As for Bob Jordan, decide whether you are reporting or selling.