New Jersey Assembly Democrats:McKeon Files OPRA Request Seeking Documents Related to Dismissed Hunterdon County Sheriff Indictment

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McKeon Files OPRA Request Seeking Documents Related to Dismissed Hunterdon County Sheriff Indictment

Filing with Attorney General Seeks Array of Documents Including Christie Administration Communications

(TRENTON) - Assembly Judiciary Chairman John McKeon on Tuesday announced he has filed an Open Public Records Act request with the state Attorney General's Office seeking documents related to the 2010 firing of a former assistant Hunterdon County prosecutor who alleged an indictment against the then-Hunterdon County sheriff was been dismissed for political reasons.
The OPRA request seeks an array of documents, including communications between the Christie administration with then-Hunterdon County Sheriff Deborah Trout, who was among those charged in a 2010 indictment alleging official misconduct and falsification of documents. Then-Attorney General Paula Dow later quashed the indictment, deeming it legally and factually deficient.
The former assistant Hunterdon prosecutor, Bennett Barlyn, claims he was fired for complaining to a superior that the case was dropped for political reasons.
McKeon in March asked the state Attorney General's Office to waive confidentiality and release documents related to a $1.5 million settlement Barlyn reached with the state as part of a whistleblower lawsuit. Barlyn agreed to do so, but McKeon said the state's response was unsatisfactory.
"After a lot of patience and - sadly - failed attempts to work cooperatively, we have taken the next logical step in this process," said McKeon (D-Essex/Morris). "Taxpayers deserve to know what happened here, and this is another chance for the Christie administration to finally do the right thing. The public deserves a full accounting of what happened. So far, the administration has worked hard to avoid answering questions, but that is - and never has been - acceptable."
The state has until Monday to respond.
"If this response is unsatisfactory, I will weigh all options, including legal action," McKeon said. "There is no legitimate reason for withholding these documents and explanations. The public's patience has run out. It's time to shine the light on these allegations and let everyone analyze what happened in this case. We still have so many unanswered questions."
The OPRA request seeks:
· All documents dating from 2010 and 2011 that refer to the investigation and prosecution of Deborah Trout, Michael Russo and John Falat by the Hunterdon County Prosecutor's Office.
· All documents dating from 2010 and 2011 that refer to the resignation of Hunterdon County Prosecutor J. Patrick Barnes.
· All documents dating from 2010 and 2011 that refer to the appointment of Dermot O'Grady as Acting Hunterdon County Prosecutor.
· All documents dating from 2010 and 2011 that refer to the decision of the Attorney General to supersede the Office of the Hunterdon County Prosecutor as of April 2010.
· All documents dating from 2010 and 2011 that refer to the decision of the Division of Law and/or the Attorney General to dismiss the indictments returned by the Hunterdon County Grand Jury against Deborah Trout, Michael Russo and John Falat.
· All correspondence, communications or documents dating from 2010 and 2011 in the custody of the Division of Law by and between Governor Chris Christie and Deborah Trout.
· All correspondence, communications or documents dating from 2010 and 2011 in the custody of the Division of Law by and between members of the staff of Governor Chris Christie and Deborah Trout.
· All correspondence, communications or documents dating from 2010 and 2011 in the custody of the Division of Law by and between Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno and Deborah Trout.
· All correspondence, communications or documents dating from 2010 and 2011 in the custody of the Division of Law by and between members of the staff of Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno and Deborah Trout.
· All correspondence, communications or documents dating from 2009 and 2010 in the custody of the Division of Law by and between Governor-elect Chris Christie and Deborah Trout.
· All correspondence, communications or documents dating from 2009 and 2010 in the custody of the Division of Law by and between Lt. Governor-elect Kim Guadagno and Deborah Trout.
Barlyn filed the lawsuit against the state in 2012 alleging he had been wrongfully fired. In 2016, the case was settled for $1.5 million, while the state spent almost $4 million on additional legal fees. Under terms of the settlement, the state denied any wrongdoing or liability in the matter.
McKeon had asked the Attorney General's Office to waive confidentiality with respect to the confidential discovery materials covered by protective orders - excluding the grand jury transcript itself and any personal information about any of the parties to the case.
"The allegations contained in Mr. Barlyn's whistleblower suit are deeply troubling, as is the financial cost to the state," McKeon wrote. "And yet, more than five years after Mr. Barlyn filed his whistleblower claim, the public still has no real understanding of whether public corruption led to the dismissal of the indictment. The time for games is over. It's time for facts."

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