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Sweeney Loses Court Case Over Martin Perez Appointment to Rutgers Board of Governors

Court Rules in Favor of Christie's Appointee in One of Sweeney's Key Battles Over Rutgers Governance
Charlie Kratovil

TRENTON, NJ—A state appellate court ruled in favor of Governor Chris Christie's decision to appoint New Brunswick resident Martin Perez to the powerful Rutgers University Board of Governors.

The ruling comes after a long and drawn out legal and political battle between the Republican Governor and Senate President Steve Sweeney, a Democrat from South Jersey.

Sweeney sought to stop the appointment Perez, who is currently the only Latino on the Board of Governors.

The ruling asserted that Christie had the right to appoint seven members to the Board of Governors, plus an Essex County resident, at the recommendation of the state legislature.

Perez told New Brunswick Today that he was happy to put the controversy behind him.

"I am glad that the issue is over and I can continue serving our great State University," said Perez.  "My gratitude goes to all the people who supported and encourage me during this process."

Perez, who founded the city-based Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey, was sworn in as a member of the Board of Governors on July 15 of last year.  Sweeney succeeded in delaying the appointment with the threat of litigation.

Sweeney responded negatively, calling it illegal and threatening to take legal action. He would make the point that Christie would need to appoint someone from either Essex or Camden counties. 

"The legislation clearly clearly states the additional appointments to the board need to be from Camden and Essex Counties," Sweeney told The Star-Ledger

When Christie nominated first nominated Perez to the Board of Governors in May 2011, State Senator Bob Smith of Middlesex County blocked the appointment using a move known as senatorial courtesy.

That unwritten rule of state government allows state senators who live in the same county of a gubernatorial appointee to block said nomination without reason. 

Christie in turn bypassed the Senate by using a portion of a 2012 law which expanded the University Board of Governors from 11 to 15 members to accommodate for the absorption of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of NJ.

Due to this expansion by the University and its Board of Governors, Governor Christie gained the right to select at large two members of the Board without the approval of the Senate, effectively bypassing Smith.

The governor announced in a December 2012 ceremony at the Rutgers Student Center that he would be appointing Martin Perez to the University Board of Governors.

The event was attended by University, local, and statewide activists. 

In response to the appointment by the Governor, Sweeney filed a lawsuit to remove Perez, asserting that a law exists ensuring a slot for one Camden County resident on the Board of Governors. 

The ruling however, asserted that Governor Christie acted within his authority in appoiting Martin Perez to the Board of Governors; the Governor was in a position to select the "two additional appointees" without the advice and consent of the Senate.

The court ruling determined that the residency requirement would not apply to these two seats, and that contrary to Sweeney's argument, Governor Christie had already fulfilled the Camden County residency when he nominated William Tambussi to the board.

In June of this year, Senate President Sweeney clashed with Rutgers when proposing a bill that would expand the Board of Governors from 15 to 19 seats, with those four positions being political appointees. 

The Senate President would end up leaving the University with an ultimatum to reform its administration and governance, lest he continue pursuing his plans with the bill.