Four-year-old notes describing intra-office machinations and a dismissed indictment have offered new details in a lawsuit that claims political pressure from Trenton led to the firing of a former assistant county prosecutor.
Bennett Barlyn sued the state over his 2010 ouster, claiming he was suspended then fired after he complained that a 43-count indictment against Hunterdon County's sheriff and two subordinates was dropped for political reasons, possibly involving Gov. Chris Christie.
Notes taken at the time by William McGovern, the assistant Hunterdon County prosecutor who handled the case, were subpoenaed as part of his lawsuit and obtained by The Associated Press.
The notes contain McGovern's descriptions of the state attorney general's office taking over the case from the Hunterdon County prosecutor's office and eventually dismissing the grand jury's indictment. The state has claimed the indictment was legally and factually deficient, a contention Barlyn and McGovern dispute.
In an entry in the notes dated May 17, 2010, McGovern writes that the attorney general's office is known to "silence dissenters" and that this is the reason he began keeping notes "in the event it is ever necessary to explain my handling of the case or to protect my reputation or my job."
The notes span May through September 2010 and reflect McGovern's growing frustration as the attorney general's office becomes more involved in the case. He writes of being told by acting Hunterdon County Prosecutor Dermot O'Grady in early August not to attend a status conference on the case; two weeks after the Aug. 9 conference, the indictment was dismissed at the request of the attorney general's office.
McGovern resigned from the prosecutor's office and filed a notice of intent to sue the state and county in 2010, claiming civil rights violations and damage to his reputation.
Then-Sheriff Deborah Trout, Undersheriff Michael Russo and investigator John Falat Jr. were charged with official misconduct and falsification of documents. Among the charges were that Trout allowed Russo to oversee his own background investigation and allowed a prospective county investigator to obtain a county-issued handgun without proper background checks; and that Falat lied on his employment application and printed and distributed fake sheriff's office ID cards.
Barlyn's lawsuit claims Celgene Corp. executive Robert Hariri, a contributor to Christie's campaign who served on his transition team, was one of the people given an ID card. Hariri wasn't charged. Christie has denied any involvement in the case, and a spokesman reiterated that position Thursday.
Through a spokesman, the attorney general's office didn't comment.
After the indictment was dropped, Trout, Russo and Falat sued Hunterdon County in federal court alleging malicious prosecution.
Barlyn's attempt to get access to the grand jury transcripts in the Trout case was rejected by a state appeals court this month. The state has filed a motion in federal court to stop Hunterdon County from gaining access to the same materials in the action filed by Trout, Russo and Falat.