He thought it was going to be a leafy, low stress gig, but when Bennett Barlyn began his job as Hunterdon County assistant prosecutor, he found himself up against the prospect of a retrial of a former basketball player guilty of covering up a fatal shooting.
And that was just the beginning.
Facing the Assembly Judiciary Committee this morning, Barlyn drilled down on his claim that Governor Chris Christie’s administration fired him for alleging that the acting Attorney General’s Office dismissed a 2010 indictment because it involved supporters of the governor. The indictment – 43-counts brought by the Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office against then-Sheriff Deborah Trout – was dismissed same day the state acting attorney general arrived, Barlyn said.
“If my allegation is correct, multiple state crimes were committed by this administration,” Barlyn said.
Not a single deposition took place. The case was settled the day before the first scheduled deposition, the former prosecutor said.
Barlyn intimated that correspondence exists between the governor’s office and the AG, that could have become public, which is why he believes the state offered to settle when it did. He also said Philip Kwon, a defeated candidate for the state supreme court, was in the meeting with Judge Paula Dow about the case early in Christie’s administration.
How exactly was the case politicized, Judiciary Chairman Assemblyman John McKeon (D-27) wanted to know.
“The way the attorney general took over our office and took all our evidence,” said Barlyn, who described how media inquiries went to Trenton not Hunterdon, and how boxes of evidence gathered over two years went to the acting AG’s Office. “There was a story in the Hunterdon Democrat [where one of the defendants said] that said ‘Gov. Christie is going to come in and kill this.’
“Sheriff Trout was part of an organization that campaigned on behalf of the governor in his reelection bid,” added the former prosecutor, whose six-year legal battle with the Christie administration has cost taxpayers $3.85 million in legal fees.
Barlyn told McKeon that the Christie-connected Gibbons Law firm and the acting AG’s Office guarded “something in the privileged log” that they thought was “very incriminating with respect to our allegations.”
McKeon called Bridgegate child’s play compared to Barlyn’s allegations.
The lawmaker’s legislation (A-4243) would prohibit the state from settling a whistle-blower suit if the terms of the settlement are confidential or if the purpose of the settlement is to conceal information related to any claim against the public entity. It would also require the AG to make the settlement agreements public on their website, including what is spent on outside counsel fees.
The judiciary committee unanimously passed the legislation out of committee.
“The purpose of this law is to fully expose misconduct to the public,” McKeon said. “I said that Bridgegate is child’s play compared to this. This is outrageous.”
McKeon wants to hear more on this case.
“I want to know,” added the judiciary chairman.