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Blue law ban rhetoric escalates to threats of court action

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Paramus Mayor Richard LaBarbiera said he will allow Home Depot and other household-related stores to open Sunday if the blue laws ban remains in effect. (Paramus Public Schools)
Paramus Mayor Richard LaBarbiera said he will allow Home Depot and other household-related stores to open Sunday if the blue laws ban remains in effect. (Paramus Public Schools)

As Bergen County and Paramus officials traded threats of legal action over the state's ban on blue laws after Hurricane Sandy, Gov. Chris Christie today held firm that Paramus officials can't block the sale of certain goods this Sunday.

"Listen, they don't have a right to do that, as far as I'm told by my lawyers," Christie said at a storm-related press conference in Somerset. "And so, if they want to go to court, they can go to court."

The governor said he has no plans to rescind his executive order banning blue laws until Bergen County's executive requests it.

Implementing Christie's order by its exact written language, Paramus Mayor Richard LaBarbiera on Tuesday told retailers in Paramus to limit sales to household items like clothes, appliances and building materials on Sunday if the ban remains in effect, promising violators "strict enforcement of the blue laws, which includes a fine and might also include arrest."

In a letter shared with the borough's retailers on Wednesday, Paramus Attorney Brian Giblin echoed LaBarbiera's interpretation of the state statute, noting the borough "must permit the sale of those items listed (in the statute, but) the prohibition of the sale of items such as books, jewelry, automobiles, etc. has not been affected by the governor's executive order."

Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan plans to seek a court ruling to prevent Paramus from limiting which stores can open on Sunday and what goods they can sell. Though LaBarbiera said he's ready to defend a court challenge, he questioned the county's priorities in seeking a ruling, noting there's a greater need for restoring power to homes than keeping jewelry stores open on Sunday.

"Why are we spending taxpayers' dollars to go into court about this when we still have residents without power?" LaBarbiera said. "I don't know why the county executive feels it's more appropriate to challenge our position on what can be sold on Sunday than restoring power. Every second we take away from working to restore power to make sure jewelry stores can open on Sunday is arguably a crime."

In response to Hurricane Sandy, LaBarbiera said he told home improvement stores like Home Depot to open for business on Nov. 4 — the first Sunday after Christie's order took effect — "but many chose not to do so, which tells me there's not a real need for this executive order … and I think there's a strong likelihood it won't last through this weekend."

But if the ban stays in effect on Sunday and the court prevents any limits on what items stores can sell, LaBarbiera said Paramus officials are "vigorously going to defend the blue laws here."

"Just like we're complying with the original executive order, we'll comply with whatever the court says — but we're also going to put out our defense and appeal it," LaBarbiera said.

John Holub, president of the New Jersey Retail Merchants Association, previously told NJBIZ that if Paramus officials block retailers from selling any kind of inventory on Nov. 11 while the executive order is still intact, the borough will be "clearly in violation" of Christie's edict.

Christie said he suspended the blue laws in response to last week's superstorm at the request of Donovan. If and when she asks him to lift the executive order, Christie said, "I'll do it immediately upon her asking. She does not yet believe it's appropriate to do that, so I'll stick with the county executive."

Contributing: Jared Kaltwasser

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