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Lady Liberty Suit Returned to New Jersey Court; New York Vows to Fight

August 20, 1985

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ New York will continue its fight to dismiss a lawsuit contending that the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island belong to New Jersey, says an aide to New York’s attorney general.

David Fishlow, an aide to New York Attorney General Robert Abrams, said his state will argue that the suit should be dismissed on the grounds that only the U.S. Supreme Court may hear such territorial disputes.

U.S. District Judge Frederick B. Lacey ruled Monday that the case should remain in Superior Court in Jersey City, where it was filed, because New York never got co-defendant New Jersey’s support in seeking to move the case to federal court.

Eleven New Jersey politicians and labor leaders brought the suit, maintaining that an 1834 pact between New York and New Jersey unconstitutionally gave the Empire State control of Liberty and Ellis islands.

They say New Jersey deserves to reap the thousands in tax revenues generated by the national monuments on the islands, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island’s immigration buildings, the gateway to the United States for millions.

The federal government holds title to the islands, both of which are within 600 yards of Jersey City and more than a mile from New York City. The 151- year-old pact set the boundary between the two states in the middle of New York Harbor, with the islands in New Jersey waters, but gave New York jurisdiction over the landmarks.

New Jersey Deputy Attorney General Dorothy Donnelly said her state was ″a reluctant defendant.″ She told Lacey that her state did hold with the plaintiffs that New Jersey has sovereignty over the islands.

Rep. Frank Guarini, a New Jersey Democrat acting as a private citizen, and the other plaintiffs claim New York has unjustly enriched itself by collecting sales tax from tourists and income tax from workers at the monuments.

″We’re laying claim to land that’s in New Jersey territorial waters. We’ve been looking at the Lady’s derriere for 100 years. Fine, we just want her address,″ said Conrad Vuocolo, a spokesman for the congressman.

The attorney for the New Jersey plaintiffs, Seymour Margulies, contends the 1834 pact is unconstitutional because ″no state legislature has the right to give up sovereignty to land within its boundaries.″

New York will collect $2.5 million in income tax this year from workers restoring the statue for its 1986 centennial. The state reaps more than $50,000 annually in sales tax from tourists visiting the attractions. That figure is expected to increase after the statue’s reopening.

Construction of a hotel and museum also has been proposed for Ellis Island.

Meanwhile, New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean have already met to discuss ways to distribute tax revenues and jobs on the islands, said Carl Golden, a spokesman for Kean.

″These are the kinds of things that are more properly worked out in that kind of forum,″ he said.

Cuomo recommended Monday that a federal protectorship be established, with revenues from the islands reserved for the preservation of the landmarks.

Golden said Cuomo’s proposal was ″certainly something to be explored.″

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