Booker sued over public records requests

WASHINGTON -- The National Review, a conservative magazine and Web site, is suing Newark Mayor Cory Booker, the city and the Newark police, accusing them of stonewalling public records requests.

UPDATED: A city spokesman, though, said a response will be delivered by Thursday, as indicated in an Aug. 30 letter from the city clerk to National Review. He said the city received no objection.

The National Review argues in its suit that the legal time frame for producing the records has passed and accuses Newark of "stringing along" a reporter with delays.

The suit stems from the magazine’s attempts to verify a story Booker has told about Wazn Miller, a Newark resident shot and killed in 2004, who Booker has said died in his arms. National Review editor Rich Lowry wrote online today that the magazine sought records to confirm the story but has been blocked. Booker, a Democrat, is running for U.S. Senate in an Oct. 16 special election.

“It should be easy to get more information about the Miller case,” Lowry wrote. “Yet for weeks now, we have been stonewalled and given the run-around by everyone we’ve asked for help in obtaining the relevant police records.”

National Review first filed its records request to the Newark police Aug. 15, but has not received the police report it has sought, despite follow-up requests to the police and, on Aug. 22, a request to the city clerk, according to an editor looking into the story.

Lowry wrote that the magazine began examining the Miller story after questions arose around another common Booker tale, about a drug dealer named T-Bone.

Booker campaign spokesman Kevin Griffis responded:

“This is a stunt by a partisan journal and had it cared to talk to people connected to the case and actually called the mayor’s office to learn the facts about it, they would have been put in touch with people who worked on the case.”

UPDATED: Booker's city spokesman, James Allen, said the clerk is independent from the mayor's office and that the records were not available electronically, so they had to be found manually in the police archives.

"The Clerk notified the National Review that they anticipated a response on or before September 13th and did not receive an objection," Allen wrote in an e-mail. "Officials at the police department searched extensively and located hard copies of the incident report. The Clerk has indicated that the National Review will receive the records on Thursday, prior to the deadline."

Allen also e-mailed a statement attributed to Anthony Ambrose, Essex County Chief of Detectives and former Newark Police Director, backing up Booker's story. 

"I remember that Cory was wearing jogging pants and a sweatshirt, and that he had blood all over his hand and on his arm. The people at the scene said he rendered aid to the victim, and I recall him staying by the victim’s side until he was transported to the hospital," said Ambrose, who was the city's police director at the time of the incident.

An Aug. 30 letter from the city clerk to the National Review requested an extension of the normal time allowed to respond to a New Jersey open records request -- seven business days.

In its lawsuit, the National Review says it did not agree to the extension, calling it "unreasonable, frivolous, improper and intended to hinder." The suit also argues that the defendants "acted in bad faith by 'stringing along'" media editor Eliana Johnson and delaying her request for information.

UPDATED: Johnson, in an e-mail to the Inquirer, said, Ambrose had personally told her he could not release the police report in question because it was an open homicide investigation.

Johnson said she filed her initial request for the police report Aug. 15 and was bounced between three police department contacts and faxed two requests, but neither request produced the report she sought. On Aug. 22 she filed a request with the city clerk, but in early September received a letter telling her that after a "preliminary search ... thus far we have not yielded any results."

The suit was filed in Essex County Superior Court.

Booker's Republican opponent in the Senate race, Steve Lonegan, has also sued the Newark city clerk over his campaign's request for records. Lonegan also argued that his requests for public information were not fulfilled.

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