Just as a trial court in Trenton was about to release potentially embarrassing—and possibly explosive—documents about the Christie administration’s involvement in the quashing of indictments against powerful Republican allies, the Appellate Division saved the day for Gov. Chris Christie. And, maybe, saved the election.
The documents could have provided insight into why Paula Dow, then Christie’s attorney general and now a nominee herself to a court seat, intervened both to throw out indictments against the Hunterdon County sheriff and two sheriff deputies and then fired or forced out the prosecutors involved in the case.
If, as Bennett Barlyn, the plaintiff in the case contends, the material proves what he calls “corruption” at the highest levels of the administration, then Christie could have been hurt at the polls Nov. 5.
But, no worries for Christie. At the urging of the Christie Administration, the Appellate Division blocked the release of the documents pending briefs and hearings on appeal. The case won’t be heard until January, long after the election–so interested voters won’t know what’s in the material until it’s too late to have an impact on their decision.
I first wrote about the case—its caption is Bennett A. Barlyn vs. Paula T. Dow, et al– nearly three years ago. It has been slogging slowly through the courts since 2010 and now clearly won’t be resolved during Christie’s first term in office—and its resolution won’t have an impact on his re-election. More recently, the New York Times ran a front page piece by Michael Powell that provided strong support for Barlyn’s allegations that the indictments should not have been quashed—and were probably deep-sixed as a political favor to Hunterdon County Republican friends of the governor.
The governor’s spokesman has been aggressively dismissing the allegations, calling them “ridiculous” and “silly” and a “conspiracy theory.”
If that’s what they are, why is the Attorney General’s office spending a fortune in resources trying to block Barlyn’s—and our—access to materials that would prove the spokesman to be right? Why not let the documents be released and prove Barlyn is wrong?
Because, of course, it also could prove Barlyn is right and, if that’s so, what does that say about the man who not only wants to be reelected governor but also wants to be President of the United States?
In its court filings, the Attorney General’s office contends it is trying to protect the “confidentiality” of grand jury proceedings. For any reporter who has covered Christie for any length of time, this is a bit of a laugh. When he was the chief federal prosecutor for New Jersey—and indicting all the obstacles in his way to higher political office—his office was known for its generous press leaks. For any victims of those leaks–how about John Bennett and US Sen. Robert Menendez and Joe Doria?–I guess it’s not much of a laugh.
The story is simple. Details can be filled in by my piece or Powell’s. The complaint also is online. Hunterdon County prosecutors indicted the Hunterdon County sheriff and two of her aides for misconduct. One of the aides boasted Christie would get the indictments thrown out. A day after the indictments were unsealed, Dow took over the Hunterdon County prosecutor’s office and, later that month, did precisely what the aide predicted—the indictments were thrown out. Good guess.
And three assistant prosecutors—all with distinguished careers and clean records—were, like Barlyn, fired or forced out. Barlyn sued, calling his dismissal “corrupt.’’
One of the players in the case is Celgene, a pharmaceutical house whose executives are close to Christie. One of its executives, Robert Hariri, is a big donor. He allegedly received false sheriff’s identification. Its chairman, Sol Barer, headed a commission for Christie that came up with the idea—so far blocked in the Legislature—to break up Rutgers University to create a major new South Jersey university favored by Democratic boss and Christie ally George Norcross.
If the criminal indictments against the Hunterdon sheriff’s officers had gone to trial, it might have proved a major embarrassment to the Christie administration and the governor’s friends and donors. Why did pharma executives want false sheriff’s credentials? Why did Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno thank the Hunterdon sheriff in an email for her help in the 2009 campaign? Hmmm.
Someone made it all go away. Or so that someone thought.
The Attorney General’s office has given several different reasons it killed the indictments and got rid of the offending prosecutors. The reason it is sticking with now is that the indictments were improperly sought. Barlyn says the materials he wants–the grand jury proceedings–will prove they were not. Powell’s story quoted grand jury members who thought the case was strong.
Dow, by the way, got a $215,000 job with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and has been nominated to be a state court judge.
It’s always good to have friends in high places.