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Ex-Prosecutor Urges Legislative Probe In Hunterdon Sheriff’s Case

The state takeover of the prosecutor’s office was made under the authority of the 1970 Criminal Justice Act, and all of Barnes’ assistant prosecutors were sworn in as deputy state attorneys general under O’Grady, but it was the handling of -- or, more specifically, the lack of information about -- the Trout case that caused consternation in the Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office.

Two-and-a-half months after O’Grady took over, Detective Sgt. Kenneth Rowe, the lead investigator on the Trout case who had previously spent 26 years with the State Police, fired off an email to colleagues expressing concern that “Dermot has NOT yet asked me ONE question about the sheriff’s job.” Rowe said he found that “particularly worrisome” because the Attorney General’s office in Trenton had been requesting all of the grand jury transcripts, investigative reports, affidavits, and search warrants in the case, and “taking all our original evidence for ‘review.’ (That’s total BS that has never happened to me before.”)

“I have never seen a prosecutorial agency act or work as a defense counsel,” Rowe wrote. “I perceive a lot of what they have been doing as interfering with a GJ (Grand Jury) investigation or even criminal acts. I am certainly starting to believe the comment . . . where Russo reportedly said Christie is going to take care of it. Why the interest in this small time case????”

Two weeks later, on August 7, 2010, O’Grady formally took the lead prosecutor, McGovern, a registered Republican, off the case and ordered him not to show up at the scheduled August 9 hearing. On that day, Deputy Attorney General Hoffman went into court and told the judge that the prosecutor’s office had decided to drop all 43 charges because the indictments contained “legal and factual deficiencies” and would “criminalize what are essentially bad management decisions.” That same day, as the indictments were being dismissed, Christie issued an announcement that he would be nominating Anthony Kearns to serve as the new Hunterdon prosecutor.

Barlyn noted that in other cases where there are deficiencies in the presentation of a case, prosecutors simply fix the deficiencies and re-present the case. That’s what the attorney general’s office, for example, was prepared to do when its case against Middlesex County Sheriff Joseph Spicuzzo came apart after the judge discovered that prosecutors had never told defense lawyers that offers of immunity from prosecution had been offered to current or former sheriff’s officers in exchange for their testimony. Spicuzzo eventually accept a plea deal.

Courtney said criminal charges should never have been brought against Trout and her aides on what he characterized as inconsequential management issues, but Barlyn disagreed, noting that Kwon, the First Assistant Attorney General, suggested contacting the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

When Barlyn saw O’Grady in the hall the day the case was dismissed, he confronted him. “Mission accomplished!” Barlyn shouted at O’Grady, and the two argued. The next day, Barlyn returned from Drug Court to find three investigators from the attorney general’s office in Trenton, who informed him that he was suspended and escorted him out of the building. By the time Barlyn got home, his computer access to his files was turned off, and three weeks later he was fired, allegedly for not showing up to a job he had been ordered to leave.

McGovern was called in and told he could stay, but only if he agreed not to question the dismissal of the Trout case. He chose to retire. Ouslander, who was not given the option of staying, retired too.

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