For Mary Dougherty, the Chapter Seems Over

The life you live before you get into trouble matters.

That was the observation today by Judge Stephen Taylor as he contemplated how to punish Mary Dougherty, who pleaded guilty last month in connection with taking an illegal $10,000 campaign contribution. Dougherty, the wife of Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty, was a Democratic candidate for freeholder at the time.

The judge concluded that your past life matters quite a bit. He sentenced Dougherty to a year’s probation, noting that Dougherty’s transgression does not define her. In doing so in state Superior Court, Morristown, Taylor praised Dougherty’s commitment to public service, stressing her support for the homeless, the poor and those struggling with addiction. The judge noted that Dougherty herself has overcome alcoholism.

In brief remarks to the court in the Zoom hearing, Dougherty vowed never to appear before the judge again. She said she will continue serving the community, but not as an elected official.

It was her foray into elective politics that began her troubles. It was during a 2018 campaign for Morris County freeholder that Dougherty took a $10,000 cash contribution – reportedly in a coffee container no less – from a “cooperating witness” looking for legal work. That witness has not been identified by the state Attorney General’s Office, but is believed to be Matt O’Donnell, a Morristown lawyer.

Dougherty handled the contribution in her campaign finance report by listing four, separate $2,500 donations.

Deputy Attorney General John Nicodemo, who argued the case for the state, said this was a “serious offense” that involved “false swearing,” on an official document. Or in other words, lying.

Taylor agreed – up to a point.

He said he’s confident Dougherty won’t commit another crime, but that it’s important to deter others. So, he ordered probation for just one year. Dougherty also has to forfeit the illegal payment of $10,000, but she already has done so.

Such sentences normally include community service, but the judge didn’t impose any, saying, in effect, that Dougherty already does a lot of community service without being ordered to do so.

Matthew Beck, the defendant’s lawyer, said Dougherty didn’t deserve any probation.

He said the case has drawn a “ton” of publicity.

“With that publicity has come public shame,” Beck said.

The publicity is unavoidable.

Just for the record, Dougherty was originally charged in December, 2019 along with four elected officials, all of whom allegedly took money from O’Donnell. She has been the only one to plead guilty.

Cases against the other four continue. They are Sudham Thomas, a former Jersey City School Board president, Jason O’Donnell, a former state assemblyman from Bayonne, former Mount Arlington Councilman John Windish and former Morris freeholder John Cesaro. Thomas was arraigned earlier this week and pleaded not guilty.

This is a bipartisan endeavor involving three Democrats – Dougherty, Thomas and O’Donnell – and two Republicans – Cesaro and Windish.

So, publicity about this case of alleged public corruption is bound to continue.

But for Dougherty, the chapter seems over.

As Beck put it, “The court simply does not have to worry about her committing another crime.”

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