Polluters’ Attorney Sees No Conflicts in Top Jersey Eco-Job
Duties Have Direct Impact on Former Clients’ Fortunes; Ethics Review Requested
Trenton — A new top official at the New Jersey environment agency formerly was an attorney for some of the biggest polluters in the state but has not recused herself from handling matters related to her former clients, according to agency records released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). PEER today asked the state Ethics Commission to review the case and decide to what extent this official must avoid involvement with former legal clients.
On July 7, 2011, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) named Jane Kozinski as its new Assistant Commissioner for Environmental Management which oversees air quality, solid and hazardous waste management, and environmental health and safety technical and regulatory programs. Up until 2009, Kozinski was a partner at the Princeton law firm Saul Ewing LLP where she represented corporate clients on issues arising under federal and state environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act, hazardous waste laws and New Jersey’s Spill Act – all areas under her new purview. Kozinski’s clients included corporations such as Waste Management Inc., which requires permits issued by her office.
On August 1, 2011 (the day Ms. Kozinski assumed office), New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe filed a request under the Open Public Records Act asking for any ethics disclosure forms, including recusals that Assistant Commissioner Kozinski had on file at DEP. On August 4th, DEP responded that it had no recusals on file. The only responsive document found was an ethics disclosure form in which Kozinski stated that she currently had no outside activities that might present a conflict. That form ended with a notation by the DEP legal ethics officer which read “No ethics review required.”
“The state ethics law says public officials must ‘avoid conduct which is in violation of their public trust or which creates a justifiable impression among the public that such trust is being violated,’ stated Wolfe. “State officials should not be in a position to help former clients, especially on matters in which the clients’ profits are in conflict with protecting public health.”
State ethics laws require recusals when state employees worked on any “official matter” in a non-official capacity, such as a private lawyer. Recusals are also required where an official has any “personal interest, direct or indirect” which might impair evenhandedness. PEER is asking the state Ethics Commission to direct Ms. Kozinski to keep her former law clients at arms length.
“Without these rules, corporate polluters can insert their lawyers into state service to service them and screw us,” Wolfe added, noting that Kozinski advised clients how to evade the state pollution regulations she is now supposed to enforce. “This is like putting a mob lawyer in charge of the Untouchables.”
In recent years, New Jersey has been tarred by pay-for-play scandals where corporations have bought their way into state decision-making, especially in regulation of wastes and toxic materials, the very issues now under Kozinski’s control.