Common Sense and the O’Donnell Case

Team O'Donnell

Common sense occasionally prevails – even when it comes to the courts and politics.

A state appeals court ruled this week that it’s wrong for a candidate to take a bribe even if he’s merely running for office.

The real crazy thing here is that this case needed to go to the state Appellate Division.

This tale begins in late 2019 when former state Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell was charged with taking $10,000 in “street money” when running for mayor of Bayonne in 2018, an election he lost. The man who allegedly gave him the money was a lawyer looking for work if O’Donnell won.

Challenging the charges last year, O’Donnell got a very sympathetic response from Judge Mitzy Galis-Menendez in state Superior Court in Hudson County. She dismissed the charges, ruling that no bribe took place because O’Donnell wasn’t in office when the transaction occurred. In other words, O’Donnell didn’t have the power to give legal work to anyone because he was just an average citizen.

The illogic of that interpretation was staggering.

The bribe was allegedly given to O’Donnell on a belief he would return the favor upon election. It’s not as if someone is going to take $10,000 in March and somehow forget who gave it to him if he becomes mayor a few months later. If this logic held, the unsavory would be free to bribe candidates at will as long as they did it a few weeks before they were elected.

The state, fortunately, appealed and, as we said, common sense prevailed this week.

In doing so, the three-judge panel actually reached back to a case in 1868 – yes, 1868 – to establish the precedent that a bribe is still a bribe even if the recipient lacked the means to do that for which payment was received.

As the opinion said, “The crime is completed when the agreement is reached … and it doesn’t matter that the bribed individual was without jurisdiction or otherwise incapable of performing his part of the bargain.”

Later, the justices observed that, “Bribery has traditionally been a reciprocal crime; the bribe giver is as culpable as the bribe taker.”

The bottom line is that the charges against O’Donnell were reinstated and the case will move along.

This is a very welcome ruling, at least for those who think the judiciary should be on the side of clean and honest government.

Who knows? O’Donnell may be exonerated in the end. But at least the courts have now reinforced the principle that it’s illegal to bribe candidates running for public office.

Amen to that.

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