Home > Uncategorized > Murphy DEP Delays Disclosure Of Documents Related To Lucrative Contracts With Private Law Firms That Represent DEP In Billion Dollar Lawsuit Against Ford At Ringwood Mines Superfund Site

Murphy DEP Delays Disclosure Of Documents Related To Lucrative Contracts With Private Law Firms That Represent DEP In Billion Dollar Lawsuit Against Ford At Ringwood Mines Superfund Site

How Much Are Private Law Firms Paid?

What Is Their Take Of Recovered Money?

Why Privatize DEP Litigation? Don’t We Have An Attorney General?

DEP just sued Ford Motor Company for compensation for what will likely amount to billions of dollars in damages to natural resources at the Ringwood Mines Superfund site.

I can not provide even a ballpark estimate of the actual amount of compensation DEP is seeking, because they have not quantified damages (like they did in the notorious $8.9 billion Exxon NRD lawsuit):

Upon reading the lawsuit, I was surprised to learn that DEP is represented by 3 private law firms, including a firm out of Houston Texas. So I filed the following OPRA request to learn the details:

“On June 16, 2022, NJ DEP filed a lawsuit against Ford Motor Co. to recover Natural Resource Damages at the Ringwood Superfund site. According to the Case Information Statement, Plaintiff DEP is legally represented by private counsel, specifically including:

1) Locks Law Firm, Roseland NJ 

2) The Lanier Law Firm, P.C., Houston Texa

3) Hausfeld, LLP, Philadelphia Pa.

I request the following public documents:

1) contracts, retainer agreements, and/or legal Service agreements between the Plaintiffs (DEP and AG’s Office) and the above 3 private law firms regarding the subject lawsuit, including any documents that govern the subject litigation, including legal fees, allocation of recovered monies, and roles and responsibilities for conducting the subject litigation.

2) correspondence between the above 3 private law firms and DEP Commissioner LaTourette regarding the subject litigation, from January 1, 2020 and today.”

DEP replied to that OPRA request late yesterday, literally just minutes before the legal deadline, as follows:

Dear Mr. Wolfe,

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Office of Record Access received your Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request on 06/20/22 to which the above tracking number was assigned. As such, the seven (7) business day deadline (due date) to respond to your request is 06/28/22. Your request requires additional time beyond the due date because of the time required to search for the responsive records. Your request requires an extension of time until 07/08/22.


Thank you!
Department of Environmental Protection
Office of Records Access
Tel: (609) 292-2174

Why does DEP need an extension?

My OPRA request was routine and it involved a high profile case. DEP should have those records, particularly on that kind of significant and unusual case readily available, especially given that DEP had just issued a joint press release with the AG on the lawsuit. These records are all electronic and readily retrievable.

My OPRA request did not require any rigorous search for records. So DEP’s rationale for delay is highly suspect.

I’ve seen these kind of DEP delay tactics numerous times. Almost always the delay is related to some kind of scheme to limit public disclosure.

For example, DEP regularly uses delays to manufacture legal pretext’s for not disclosing information under OPRA exemptions for “deliberative privilege” or “attorney client work product”.

(and take a look at how ever RUTGERS, an academic institution, abuses the same “deliberative privilege” loophole.)

(one time, DEP even delayed response to my request for Commissioner LaTourette’s ethics disclosure and recusal documents so that he would have time to actually submit them!)

Sometimes DEP will delay release of information so they can divert attention or get out in front of, control, and spin the story by holding an event or issuing their own press release (or undermining my credibility with the press corps so that they don’t report the story).

I’ve filed hundreds of OPRA requests – and been a DEP employee who responds to them – so I know how the DEP plays this OPRA game.

The abuse has gotten far worse, such that almost all DEP emails; internal communication; draft Reports, including raw data; and staff technical review data, findings and recommendations are no longer disclosed under a sham interpretation of the OPRA “deliberative privilege” exemption.

DEP has also used an old Tobacco industry abuse to try to classify routine communications and scientific reports as “attorney client”.

[For 15 years, in terms of OPRA, transparency, and the public’s right to know,  it’s only gotten worse at DEP (and we haven’t even mentioned the gag orders), see:

I’ve brought these abuses to the attention of legislators requesting oversight or reform legislation to close loopholes – especially former Senator Weinberg, who sponsored OPRA reform bills – and gotten no response. I’ve also brought these abuses to the attention of the NJ media, who also has shown no appetite to engage.

On Jun 25, I also filed a related OPRA request seeking enforcement documents, see:

We’ll report back when DEP responds. I’m predicting a denial, as deliberative and attorney client.

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