“I’ve had some very, very high profile, very important cases in my career,” Michael Bowe, litigation chair and attorney at Brown Rudnick LLP, told NJBIZ. “This is as important as any.”
The case Bowe is referring to is the 2020 lawsuit filed by Blueprint, a Newark-based capital asset manager founded in 2015 by Jacob Walthour and Carrie Pickett. In that 363-paragraph complaint, Walthour alleged that Blueprint was exploited and discriminated against by an “old boy’s network” of government officials and Wall Street firms. Blueprint claims its pension plan ideas were “usurped” by the state’s Division of Investment (DOI) and steered instead to BlackRock and Owl Rock.
The lawsuit was filed against those entities as well as leaders and officials, including Gov. Phil Murphy, Chief of Staff George Helmy, Attorney General Matthew Platkin and others.
On Dec. 23, 2022, U.S. District Judge Julien Xavier Neals in Newark issued a 102-page decision in response to the defendants’ request to dismiss the suit. While he did dismiss the individual claims against Murphy in addition to several against the state and individuals in their official capacities, he also allow several of the civil counts to proceed, including, most notably, the claim of racketeering against the DOI.
“In denying defendants’ six motions to dismiss, the Court held that, among other things, Brown Rudnick’s complaint adequately alleged a conspiracy and enterprise engaged in a pattern of defrauding, exploiting, and discriminating against minority-owned firms and individuals,” Brown Rudnick wrote in a press release following the December decision. “In so doing, the Court sustained Blueprint’s claims for both injunctive and monetary relief.”
In July 2020, Blueprint CEO Jacob Walthour sat down with NJBIZ to about the firm’s dispute with the state and more. Watch it again by clicking here.
Blueprint’s side believes that this case goes beyond just their company and the fallout from it – which they say has been severe – and is about the broader issue of these alleged “old boy networks,” and how they shape the decision-making processes at the top of governments.
Bowe says he intends to take this case to trial and believes it needs a public hearing.
“Now we will take discovery of defendants’ documents and cross-exam all those involved under oath, including those involved who work directly for the governor, and then we try this case in front of a jury as soon as we can,” said Bowe.
“This is a case involving insidious and inexcusable discrimination and abuse from senior New Jersey state officials and major Wall Street firms, including the world’s biggest asset manager purportedly committed to diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Lauren Tabaksblat, partner, Brown Rudnick. “We will immediately commence discovery and press aggressively to trial.”
“This is an important civil rights case and calls from African-American business and community leaders today reminded us that its significance goes far beyond Blueprint,” Bowe said in that press release after Judge Neals’ decision. “It is an honor to be entrusted with this case.”
A copy of the Judge Neals’ decision on the motions to dismiss the 22-count civil complaint can be found here.
“The discrimination here happened and is the type of abuse that causes economic disparities in the state,” Walthour told NJBIZ. “The failure to address this discrimination and the retaliation against Blueprint instead will be the legacy of the Murphy Administration.”
The New Jersey Department of Treasury, which oversees the DOI, declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation.
“We continue to believe the lawsuit has no merit and we are confident that we will prevail in this dispute,” a BlackRock spokesperson told NJBIZ in a statement.
Owl Rock did not respond to a request for comment.