Request Comes after Assembly’s 73-0 Approval of McKeon Bill Banning Secret Whistleblower Settlements; Bill Inspired by Barlyn Case
(TRENTON) – Assembly Judiciary Chairman John McKeon (D-Essex/Morris) on Monday asked state Attorney General Chris Porrino to waive confidentiality and release documents related to the $1.5 million settlement a former assistant Hunterdon County prosecutor reached with the state as part of a whistleblower lawsuit.
McKeon’s request comes after the Assembly on Thursday voted 73-0 to approve his legislation (A-4243) to prohibit public entities and public employees from entering into confidential settlements of whistleblower claims. The bill also provides that such settlements constitute public records.
McKeon introduced the bill after the assistant Hunterdon prosecutor, Bennett Barlyn, reached a settlement of his whistleblower lawsuit, which included a confidentiality agreement preventing him from revealing potentially key documents related to the case.
Barlyn filed a lawsuit against the state in 2012 alleging he had been fired in 2010 after complaining to a superior that an indictment brought by the Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office had been dismissed by then Attorney General Paula Dow for political reasons. 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.
Barlyn voluntarily testified on the bill on March 20 before McKeon’s committee, but could not discuss many details of the case because of the settlement.
“Mr. Barlyn’s recent testimony before the Assembly Judiciary Committee in support of A4243 highlighted the serious questions that remain surrounding the State’s motivation for dismissing the indictment against the former Hunterdon County Sheriff and two of her deputies,” McKeon wrote to Porrino. “His testimony also convinced me that many of the documents protected by the confidentiality order have the potential to shed significant light on this case.”
McKeon asked Porrino 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.
McKeon asked “that you provide these materials for my review,” adding, “I will be making the same request of Mr. Barlyn.” McKeon said his intention, upon reviewing the documents, is to make them public, in the spirit of his legislation.
“The allegations contained in Mr. Barlyn’s whistleblower suit are deeply troubling, as is the financial cost to the State,” McKeon wrote.
He added, “In total, New Jersey taxpayers spent nearly $5.5 million to defend against the suit. 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. I’m sure you’ll agree that this result is anathema to the spirit of New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act.”