Defamation lawsuit against Murphy fired by fired New Jersey health official may continue

A Mercer County judge on Friday refused to dismiss a defamation charge against Governor Phil Murphy filed by Christopher Neuwirth, a former senior state health official who is prosecuting the state after it was mysteriously released in the midst of a pandemic.

Supreme Court Justice Douglas Hurd dismissed arguments from state attorneys that Neuwirth’s request was unfounded because he had not shown “real malice” on the part of the governor.

A spokeswoman for the governor’s office declined to comment.

Meanwhile, it remains to be decided whether the judge will force the state health commissioner, attorney general and Murphy’s chief aide to explain Neuwirth’s termination, as well as who ordered a criminal investigation into the former health worker after he was fired.

Neuwirth was Assistant Commissioner for Health in the State Department of Public Health, Infrastructure, Laboratories and Emergency Preparedness before his sudden and still inexplicable dismissal from his high-ranking position in May 2020. later, Neuwirth claims it was ordered in April to provide test kits for COVID-19 to family members of George Helmy, Murphy’s chief of staff.

In this lawsuit, the former health ministry official claims that his dismissal was due to concerns about the ethics of providing scarce supplies to collect samples from those related to the governor, at a time when New Jersey is testing only those with symptoms of COVID .

Neuwirth later amended his lawsuit, accusing the governor of slander after his removal, after Murphy cited during a press briefing allegations in media reports that the former assistant commissioner also had a side consulting job for which he did not informed anyone.

He denied this, accusing the governor’s public statements of being false and damaging his reputation.

Questions about his dismissal have risen following a subsequent story by NJ Advance Media, which received secret recorded conversations with Health Commissioner Judith Persikili, who said Neuwirth was actually released because the governor’s administration was convinced that confidential information was leaking to the press. of the state against the coronavirus. In the recording, she said that the administration told her: “Everything points to Chris. He has to go. ”

According to court documents, as part of his case for illegal termination, it will later become known that Neuwirth has become the focus of the State Service for Public Integrity and Accountability, the public unit of the Prosecutor General for Corruption – a revelation first made clear after consultation company Neuwirth received a summons from the grand jury in June 2020.

Neuwirth’s lawyer, Christopher Eibeler of Smith Eibeler, subsequently filed a summons for the OPIA records, which the Attorney General’s Office tried to cancel.

Aibeler also asked the judge to force the testimony of Helmi and Acting Attorney General Matt Platkin, as well as Persicili, along with a “full disclosure” of the circumstances behind the order for these investigations.

“A critical question remains about the case – which of the governor’s offices has instructed the OPIA to conduct a secret criminal investigation?” He wrote in a proposal last month, complaining that he has been trying to find answers for more than a year.

“Enough is enough and now the intervention of the court is needed,” he said in his file.

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You can contact Ted Sherman at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @TedShermanSL.

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