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Many arguments have surfaced over the years as to why New Jersey’s political tradition of “double-dipping” is not very good.
They include taxpayer abuse, political cronyism and simple gluttony for one individual to hold multiple public jobs.
A suit just filed a few days ago in federal court brings up another pertinent possibility – suppose an individual holding more than one public post finds it difficult to attend to them all.
That’s the bottom line – politically speaking at least- of a suit filed against a number of defendants, including state Sen. Nicholas Scutari, who also had been Linden municipal prosecutor during the period in question. In simple terms, the suit alleges that a woman was unfairly sentenced to 30 days in jail partly because of court confusion stemming from Scutari’s absence as prosecutor. The sentence was ultimately overturned by a higher court.
The case, which began more than a decade ago, revolves around a harassment charge emanating from a love-triangle case. The nuts and bolts of that episode need not concern us here.
What is more relevant for our purposes is that the plaintiff asserts Scutari’s absence prompted the judge to, in effect, serve as prosecutor. Odd things occasionally occur in municipal court, but this is not supposed to happen. After all, the judge is supposed to decide cases after considering arguments from both the defense and the prosecution. Things certainly can be skewed if a judge takes a role on one side of that equation.
Scutari was not immediately available to chat about this. But in published reports elsewhere, he has denied being an absent prosecutor, noting that while he may not have been in the courtroom all the time, he was in the building.
This can be plausible. Years ago, I spent a lot of time covering municipal court in various New Jersey locales. Given the fact, many people plead guilty, the prosecutor is not needed. So, from my experience, it’s not unusual for the prosecutor to be out of the courtroom. But on the other hand, if there is a contested case, the prosecutor should be there.
This suit itself is not necessarily a political issue, but to be sure, there is a lot of politics here,
Linden Mayor Derek Armstead recently removed Scutari as prosecutor, citing his poor attendance. Scutari has denied this through his attorney and has threatened a suit for defamation.
All the litigation – current and threatened – will play out over time.
But you still have to take a step back and consider the time factor of double dipping
For years, state Sen. Nicholas Sacco was also North Bergen mayor and an administrator with the local school district. Just where did he find the time?
Likewise, there are lawyers who serve as municipal attorneys in a number of towns. And elected officials who also have jobs as full-time municipal administrators. Others have two elected jobs.
Common sense suggests that with all of this, there have to be some time conflicts.
Yet, you get the impression that when it comes to double-dipping among the politically connected, time available to do the job is not always considered.