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N.J. governor's e-mail ruled private

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  1. Freedom of Information
New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine can keep a lid on e-mail exchanges with his ex-girlfriend, a former labor union leader,…

New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine can keep a lid on e-mail exchanges with his ex-girlfriend, a former labor union leader, a state appeals court ruled Monday.

A three-judge panel reversed previous rulings that called for in-chambers inspection of the e-mail messages and disclosure of the former couple’s correspondence.

In March 2007, Thomas Wilson, the New Jersey Republican State Committee Chairman, requested copies of correspondence between Corzine, his staff and Carla Katz, the former head of Communications Workers of America Local 1034. Wilson questioned whether the governor had been unduly influenced by his connection with Katz, court records said.

News organizations, including The Associated Press, also asked that the e-mail messages be made public.

When the governor’s office denied Wilson’s request, he sued for access to the messages. Katz maintained that since the communications in question were related to collective bargaining negotiations, they were non-government records and not legally subject to disclosure.

Both the governor’s office and Katz moved to dismiss the case, asserting the governor’s executive privilege to these communications. However, the court found that the governor’s privilege could not be asserted without an in-chambers inspection of the documents. The court ordered the e-mail messages released, finding they were government records as defined by New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act.

Katz and the governor’s office appealed those decisions — dated August 2007 and June 2008 — and on Monday a unanimous three-judge panel reversed. Judge Mary Catherine Cuff wrote that Corzine’s e-mail is protected by executive privilege, and held that a court should not conduct an in-chambers inspection of requested documents "unless it determines that the requesting party has demonstrated an adequate need."

Cuff also stressed the importance of confidentiality in the governor’s executive decision-making responsibilities.

“Confidentiality serves to protect government sources of information," she wrote, "and disclosure of confidential e-mails between the Governor and a union leader, or a union leader and members of the Governor’s staff, would tend to have a chilling effect.”

Wilson’s "limited interest" in procuring the e-mail messages was not enough compared to "the public’s strong need for confidentiality essential to the governor’s responsibilities," Cuff wrote.

An appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court is anticipated, The AP reports.

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