Sharpe James on Supreme Court decision: 'An African American has no justice in New Jersey'

By Bill Wichert | NJ Advance Media for
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on April 29, 2015

Former Newark Mayor Sharpe James at Mayor Steven Fulop 2nd Annual Jersey City Prisoner Reentry Conference "The Prisoner's Story" at St. Peters University in Jersey City, NJ 4/2/15


NEWARK — Calling the New Jersey Supreme Court and other state officials "mere pawns" of Gov. Chris Christie, former Newark Mayor Sharpe James on Wednesday railed against the court's decision to not hear an appeal over his use of campaign funds to pay legal expenses in a criminal probe.

James also suggested the ruling by the state's highest court was an act of racial discrimination against him.

"Yesterday's Supreme Court ruling and remarks of the NJ Attorney General proves unequivocally that they are afraid of and tools of Gov. Christopher Christie and an African American has no justice in New Jersey," James wrote in a series of emails to NJ Advance Media.

State officials declined to comment on James's criticism.

James had asked the Supreme Court to consider his appeal after an appellate panel in January upheld a lower court's ruling that he violated state campaign finance laws by using about $94,000 in campaign cash to cover legal bills in the criminal case that ultimately sent him to federal prison.

That ruling was initially handed down in August 2012 as part of a lawsuit filed against James and others in 2011 by the Election Law Enforcement Commission.

In his petition to the Supreme Court, James alleged ELEC's position in his case was inconsistent with how it allowed Gov. Chris Christie's re-election campaign to use its funds in response to subpoenas in investigations related to the closure of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge.

James claimed in an email that the disparate treatment represents a "'double standard,' grossly unfair and un-American in its worst form."

Noting that Christie is considered a potential presidential candidate, James argued the state courts, ELEC and the New Jersey Attorney General are "scared to death of Gov. Christie" and decided "not to embarrass him as opposed to rendering fairness and justice."

But the Attorney General's Office has argued James's case is different than the one involving the governor's campaign, because James was the target of a grand jury investigation and the campaign was not, according to court documents.

The subpoenas in James's matter were directed to his campaign treasurer and his State Senate office, but "they involved the criminal investigation of Mr. James," according to a brief filed with the Supreme Court by the Attorney General's Office.

James has argued that, since he did not receive any subpoenas personally, his use of campaign funds should have been viewed in the same way as the governor's campaign.

The campaign funds in James's case were spent on legal services provided before and after James was indicted in July 2007 on charges of fraud and conspiracy.

A jury convicted James in 2008 of illegally steering city land to a former girlfriend at the time, Tamika Riley. James served an 18-month sentence in federal prison in Virginia before returning to Newark in April 2010.

James served as mayor from 1986 to 2006, and as a state senator from 1999 to 2008.

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