September 24, 2023

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Defamation case against Murphy by fired N.J. health official can proceed, judge rules


A Mercer County judge on Friday refused to dismiss a defamation cost versus Gov. Phil Murphy leveled by Christopher Neuwirth — the previous high-position point out Wellbeing Office official who sued the state after he was mysteriously enable go at the height of the pandemic.

Excellent Court docket Decide Douglas Hurd turned down arguments by lawyers for the point out that Neuwirth’s declare was without the need of merit due to the fact he had unsuccessful to exhibit “actual malice” by the governor.

A spokeswoman for the governor’s office declined comment.

Meanwhile, a selection is nonetheless to arrive more than whether or not the choose will pressure the state’s overall health commissioner, the attorney typical and Murphy’s major aide to make clear Neuwirth’s termination, as very well as who ordered a prison investigation that experienced focused on the former health and fitness official soon after he was fired.

Neuwirth served as assistant health commissioner for the point out Division of Community Wellness, Infrastructure, Laboratories and Emergency Preparedness, right before his sudden and however unexplained firing from his higher-profile position in May well 2020. In a whistleblower lawsuit filed a month later on, Neuwirth claimed he experienced been ordered that April to supply COVID-19 examination kits to relatives customers of George Helmy, Murphy’s main of staff members.

In that lawsuit, the former heath department official claimed his firing came following his issues about the ethics of furnishing scarce specimen selection provides to people linked to the governor, at a time when New Jersey was screening only individuals with indicators of COVID.

Neuwirth later on amended his lawsuit, accusing the governor of defamation as effectively adhering to his elimination, right after Murphy manufactured reference for the duration of a push briefing to allegations in media reports that the former assistant commissioner also experienced a facet consulting position that he experienced not educated anyone about.

He has denied that, and billed that the governor’s general public statements have been wrong and broken his popularity.

Inquiries around his firing grew pursuing a subsequent story by NJ Advance Media, which received secretly recorded conversations with Overall health Commissioner Judith Persichilli, who explained that Neuwirth was essentially permit go because the governor’s administration had turn into certain he was leaking private data to the press about the state’s response to the coronavirus. On the recording, she mentioned administration officials instructed her: “All issues issue to Chris. He has to go.”

According to courtroom filings as aspect of his illegal termination situation, it would later become acknowledged that Neuwirth experienced grow to be a target of the state Business office of General public Integrity and Accountability, the lawyer general’s public corruption unit — a disclosure that initial arrived to light just after the consulting company tied to Neuwirth received a grand jury subpoena in June 2020.

Neuwirth’s attorney, Christopher Eibeler of Smith Eibeler, subsequently submitted a subpoena for the OPIA records, which the Lawyer General’s business has sought to quash.

Eibeler has also requested the judge to compel the depositions of Helmy and performing Legal professional Normal Matt Platkin, as well as Persichilli, alongside with “full discovery” concerning the conditions at the rear of the ordering of those investigations.

“A essential concern of the circumstance continues to be — who from the Governor’s Office environment instructed the OPIA to carry out a key criminal investigation?” he wrote in a motion very last month, complaining that he has been seeking for extra than a calendar year to come across responses.

“Enough is sufficient and the court’s intervention is now needed,” he said in his filing.


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Ted Sherman may perhaps be arrived at at [email protected]. Adhere to him on Twitter @TedShermanSL.


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