A legal battle is brewing over grand jury transcripts that could play a key role in a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the state of New Jersey filed by a former assistant county prosecutor.
Former Hunterdon County assistant prosecutor Bennett Barlyn sued then-attorney general Paula Dow and others last year over his firing. Barlyn alleges he was fired because he claimed political reasons were behind the attorney general's office dismissing a 43-count indictment against former Hunterdon County Sheriff Deborah Trout and two subordinates.
The lawsuit seeks lost wages and earnings; a notice of intent to sue filed in December 2010 estimated the amount at $3 million.
Last month, a state Superior Court judge in Mercer County ruled that Barlyn should have access to grand jury transcripts from the case against Trout, Undersheriff Michael Russo and investigator John Falat Jr. Judge Darlene Pereksta gave the state until next week to release the transcripts.
Grand jury transcripts, which are records of proceedings that are closed to the public, are kept sealed except in rare circumstances.
The state attorney general's office filed papers to appeal Pereksta's ruling last week, warning in a brief that “a civil plaintiff may now obtain the record of an unrelated grand jury proceeding in which neither he nor the defendants are parties, based on nothing more than bare speculation. Because the trial court's decision degrades the secrecy of grand jury proceedings, it must be reversed.”
Barlyn claims he was fired because he told his superiors he felt the indictment against Trout, Russo and Falat was dismissed because it implicated a donor to Gov. Chris Christie, though the donor wasn't charged. Christie's office has denied any involvement in the dismissal of the indictment, which included charges of official misconduct, falsification of employment records and other offenses.
Barlyn is a former state deputy attorney general who, while with the Hunterdon prosecutor's office, handled appeals in the Jayson Williams manslaughter case after the former NBA star's 2004 trial ended with an acquittal on aggravated manslaughter but a deadlock on reckless manslaughter.
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