A federal judge overseeing the fate of New York’s landmark congestion pricing plan should recuse himself because of New Jersey political ties, according to a letter sent Wednesday by New York Senate Judiciary chairperson Brad Hoylman-Sigal.
In a letter to the court, Hoylman-Sigal, a Democrat who represents part of Manhattan, flagged that U.S. District Judge Brian Martinotti is married to an ally of New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, whose administration has a case pending before the judge that seeks to upend federal approval of New York’s tolling plan.
The development adds a deeply personal layer to an already tense standoff between the two states. New York leaders are hoping that the tolls will help reduce traffic, improve air quality and fund public transit. New Jersey officials say the plan is unfair and are suing to block or overhaul it.
The judge’s wife, Dana Martinotti, is a councilwoman in a North Jersey town and was a Murphy nominee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. She left the Port Authority earlier this year, but it’s been reported that Murphy would seek to give her a spot on another prominent board.
“How could New Yorkers expect this case to be handled in a fair and impartial manner with those facts alone?" Hoylman-Sigal said in an interview.
The letter sent to Judge Renée Marie Bumb, the chief judge for the New Jersey District Court, raised other issues too. The senator wrote that Judge Martinotti is potentially conflicted from a separate but related lawsuit by Bergen County officials seeking to block the tolls on other grounds. Both the judge and councilmember live in Bergen County, and she is an elected official there.
Through a representative from his chambers, Judge Martinotti declined to comment. Councilmember Martinotti did not respond to an email sent to her office.
Bumb said she is preparing a response to Hoylman-Sigal.
In his letter and in an interview with POLITICO, Hoylman-Sigal tied the current case to a “troubling history” by Judge Martinotti who, according a 2021 investigation by the Wall Street Journal, failed to recuse himself from “handling 44 cases involving companies in which he had invested.”
“Our judicial system is under great strain at the moment,” Hoylman-Sigal said in the interview. “We’ve seen at the highest levels of the judiciary, the refusal to recuse oneself has led to serious questions about the authority of our courts, and Judge Martinotti should take that seriously.”
The conflict is perhaps the most personal tit-for-tat yet between New York and New Jersey, which repeatedly clash over regional issues.
New Jersey officials are outraged that thousands of New Jersey drivers could pay $15 or more a day to enter parts of Manhattan and that some parts of the region could see new, heavier traffic patterns and poor air caused by drivers rerouting themselves to avoid the tolls.
Hoylman-Sigal said New York Democrats took tough votes to authorize the tolls several years ago, arguing it was the best thing for the environment. But now — after years of planning and months before the tolls would take effect — New York's biggest foe is a Democrat from a neighboring state.
“It’s an outrage that another state would try to undermine the legislative prerogative of New York," Hoylman-Sigal said. "It’s a hostile act for cheap political points and extremely short sighted because Gov. Murphy’s constituents will benefit from our program too."
Murphy's office declined to comment.