Here’s an easy-to-understand line in an opinion released Monday by the state Supreme Court.
” … ordinary people can understand that New Jersey’s bribery statute does not allow them to accept a bag of cash in exchange for promising a future appointment to a city post.”
The problem – and the reason this case was before the state’s highest court – was that a lower court judge was not one of those “ordinary people.”
Let’s go back to 2018.
That’s when Jason O’Donnell, a former state Assemblyman, was running for mayor of Bayonne and allegedly took $10,000 in so-called street money from a lawyer who wanted legal work if O’Donnell won the race. O’Donnell, who wound up losing, was subsequently indicted for bribery, which brings us to the next chapter of this saga.
Judge Mitzy Galis-Menendez in state Superior Court, Hudson County dismissed the indictment on the curious logic that O’Donnell was powerless to execute his side of the agreement because at the time of the exchange, he was merely a candidate, not an officeholder. The judge, presumably, figured that if elected, O’Donnell would simply forget that this guy allegedly gave him 10 grand.
The state Appellate Division reinstated the indictment and on Monday, the Supreme Court concurred.
The court said that bribery applies to anyone accepting an improper benefit, among them “incumbents, candidates who win and candidates who lose.”
So the crime is accepting an improper benefit, not acting on it. And yes, that is something ordinary people can understand.
This type of stuff is relevant everywhere, but probably more so in New Jersey, which is no stranger to political corruption.
The case at hand is a lengthy one.
O’Donnell was one of a handful of defendants indicted almost four years ago on bribery charges.
One case has been resolved. The man allegedly dispensing bribes was cooperating with the state.
It would have been mind boggling to say the least if the court ruled otherwise, thereby giving the unscrupulous the ability to give – and receive – money as long as the recipient was only a candidate.
It sure would have made the day before election day pretty exciting.
That would have been pretty awful – even by the standards of New Jersey.