FILE - NJ Phil Murphy 5-19-2021

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, accompanied by State Police Col. Pat Callahan, speaks May 19, 2021, during a news conference at Island Beach State Park in Berkeley Township, New Jersey.

(The Center Square) – A former New Jersey official has asked a court to add defamation claims against the governor and a state lawmaker to his pending whistleblower lawsuit.

Christopher Neuwirth, a former assistant commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Health’s Division of Public Health, Infrastructure, Laboratories and Emergency Preparedness, filed a motion to add the defamation claims against the state, the governor and a state lawmaker.

Neuwirth filed his lawsuit on June 16, 2020, alleging he was fired as retaliation for filing a State Ethics Commission complaint against New Jersey State Police Superintendent Col. Patrick J. Callahan and George Helmy, Gov. Phil Murphy’s chief of staff.

Neuwirth contends Callahan pressured him to collect specimens from Helmy’s relatives at their private residence for COVID-19 testing, prompting him to file the ethics complaint. Neuwirth alleges an ethics liaison officer refused to process the complaint and “implicitly threatened … possible criminal ramifications,” according to a release.

Neuwirth was fired on May 28, 2020, and he says “anonymous sources” told news media outlets he was terminated “for cause” for failing to adequately obtain and disclose state approval for outside consulting work. In addition, Neuwirth claims that the governor and Assemblyman Christopher DePhillips, R-Wyckoff, made “false and defamatory” statements about him.

“Mr. Neuwirth is confident that the evidence will show he is the victim of a retaliatory discharge for blowing the whistle on unethical governmental conduct,” Neuwirth’s attorney, Christopher J. Eibeler, said in a news release.

“The Governor and the Assemblyman were both offered the opportunity to retract the false statements they made about Mr. Neuwirth. They both declined,” Eibeler added. “As a result, Mr. Neuwirth is pursuing every legal remedy available to him and looks forward to his day in court.”

A spokesperson for Murphy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“This is a meritless lawsuit,” DePhillips told The Center Square. “I only questioned the state’s response to the pandemic in my official capacity as a state legislator. Everything I did and said was based upon published news accounts.

“Nothing Mr. Neuwirth has provided changes the legitimate questions I was asking, which have still gone unanswered by the state to this day,” DePhillips added. “I was also the only lawmaker who called for the state ethics commission to investigate Mr. Neuwirth’s termination because I believe the people of this state should have all the facts. For me, this was always about how the state handled the pandemic during those early days.”