NEWARK – Call it the “foibles of human nature.”
Minutes after Amy DeGise pleaded guilty Tuesday to striking a biker with her SUV and leaving the scene without stopping, her lawyer, Brian Neary, tried to explain what DeGise did not explain in court.
Why did she not stop after hitting biker Andrew Black with her SUV in Jersey City last summer?
Neary really didn’t have a good explanation as he faced a team of reporters outside the Essex County Courthouse. He cited the above mentioned “foibles of human nature” and speculated that she could have panicked.
DeGise was fined $5,000 and had her license suspended for one year. The good news for DeGise is that she avoided jail time.
In court before Judge Chandra Cole, Neary stressed that DeGise voluntarily reported the accident to police six hours later. He said it wasn’t as if authorities had to track her down.
But that really wasn’t the point. Leaving the scene is leaving the scene. The time it takes to eventually report the accident can be immaterial.
Neary stressed more than once that this was a traffic offense and not a crime. That could be, but given DeGise’s political status, it really wasn’t your run-of-the-mill mishap on the street. DeGise is a Jersey City councilwoman and before that, she chaired the Hudson County Democratic Committee, one of the more powerful political groups in the state. She is also the daughter of Tom DeGise, the Hudson County executive.
As befits her ranking in the world of politics, while DeGise and her father were in the courthouse
cafeteria before the hearing, Joe DiVincenzo, the Essex County executive, strolled by to say hello.
Fair or not, DeGise’s status pushed her transgressions into the public domain.
This aspect of the case may be over, but the episode is not.
As Neary addressed the press, two men stood nearby with a banner reading “Amy DeGise Must Go.”
One of them, Kevin Bing, said DeGise is unfit to serve and should resign her seat. Back in August, an overflow crowd converged on the Jersey City council with most demanding her resignation. She refused and apparently is trying to weather the storm. Her term still has almost three years to go.
Amid calls for her to resign, Neary revealed today that Black has filed notice that he intends to sue Jersey City. Such notices tell a city a suit is possible and are also designed to force the defendant to settle the matter before litigation commences.
As for today’s proceedings, the assistant prosecutor handling the case said little besides reciting the terms of the plea agreement – a $5,000 fine, one year license suspension and no jail time. A charge of failing to promptly report the accident was dismissed.
Neary stressed DeGise’s record of serving the public, both as an elected official and a volunteer.
He acknowledged what has surfaced since the bike crash – DeGise has a history of getting. but not always paying parking tickets.
Neary argued that getting parking tickets in congested Hudson County is an “occupational hazard,” but he conceded that you are supposed to pay them.
In pleading guilty, DeGise admitted she knew she had struck the biker at around 8 a.m. last July 19 and consciously kept on going. She did not explain why.
The judge asked, “What if?” She meant “what if” the biker had been seriously injured; he was not.
Answering her own question, Judge Cole said that would have made this a more serious situation.
Neary asked for a fine of $2,500, but the judge went with $5,000.
When the DeGise incident occurred, many ranking members of the county’s political class – including Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop – said they would reserve judgment pending the legal outcome. That outcome has now arrived, so it will be interesting to see who comments and what they have to say.
At one point in court, Neary was quite the optimist, saying DeGise has learned a tough lesson and that the ordeal will make her a better public servant.
As for a more basic query about how the councilwoman would get around the city she represents for the next year, Neary replied that’s why Uber exists.