Sources say that in 2010, Gov. Chris Christie’s administration “pressed” Port Authority officials to hire Dughi, Hewit & Domalewski, the Cranford-based law firm where Christie himself once was a partner, according to a Monday night report by The Record.Since 2010, the firm has taken in at least $6.3 million from the bi-state agency for legal work, the report said. According to The Record, that sum is “significant” for a firm that employs roughly two dozen attorneys and had never previously contracted with the agency until Christie arrived in Trenton.
The firm was first hired by the Port Authority in 2010 when the agency faced a lawsuit over a Bayonne land deal, the report said. But rather than engage in the competitive selection process that is usually standard for hiring outside firms, Port Authority staff attorney Darrell Buchbinder wrote in a memo, which was obtained and published by The Record, that he was comfortable enough with Dughi & Hewit’s work that he felt skipping the process “would be in the best interests” of the agency.
In the memo, Buchbinder cited a failed proposal the firm submitted for legal work pertaining to insurance coverage and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing as evidence of its capability to represent the agency.
At the time of the firm’s hiring by the agency, current partner Craig Domalewski was working as senior counsel to Christie and his father Stanley Domalewski, a Christie campaign donor, was given a $98,000-per year “senior project manager” position with the Port Authority, according to The Record.
Craig Domalewski has since left the Christie administration to become a partner at the firm and is currently providing legal services to the Port Authority, the report says.
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Founding partner Russell Hewit told the paper in a statement that Domalewski’s former position within the administration had no impact over the agency’s hiring of the firm. Hewit added that the firm’s lawyers are “highly qualified professionals with decades of experience handling complex and sophisticated civil litigation of the kind for which they were retained by the Port Authority.”
According to The Record, public records show that Hewit, who first hired Christie in 1987, also donated to Christie’s gubernatorial campaign and was appointed by the governor in 2011 to one of two paid positions on the board of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey.
Through the years, the firm has also employed top Christie advisers such as Bill Palatucci and former U.S. Sen. and state Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa, the report notes.
The governor’s office did not take questions from The Record, instead referring them to the Port Authority.
Buchbinder, who wrote the memo regarding the selective process, and the Port Authority’s first general counsel at the time, Christopher Hartwyk, also declined to speak with the paper.
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