Matthew O’Donnell requested his reappointment as East Hanover’s municipal attorney be pulled, Mayor Joseph Pannullo said at the township’s reorganization meeting Monday.
“In the last 15-20 minutes, I had a visit from Matt O’Donnell, who is our municipal attorney. I was going to reappoint him tonight, but Matt came and asked me to withdraw his name from our consideration for township attorney,” Pannullo said at the start of the meeting. “Matt had felt that it was within the best interest of the township of East Hanover and the people of East Hanover for him to withdraw.”
The New Jersey Globe has identified O’Donnell as a cooperating witness in a corruption sting carried out by state authorities that has led to bribery charges against five current and former New Jersey politicians.
Pannullo defended O’Donnell, who has seen municipal clients flee from his firm in the wake of Attorney General Gurbir Grewal’s sting.
Hackensack, Middletown, Holmdel, Monmouth County, Bloomfield, Wall, Mount Arlington and Manalapan have severed ties with O’Donnell.
“You hear a lot of rumors going around, and the truth of the matter is nobody, especially Matt, has been charged with anything,” Pannullo said. “He deserves his peace. He deserves — I believe in our court systems — he deserves his day. He shouldn’t be convicted by public opinion.”
No charges have been filed against O’Donnell, though his motive for becoming a cooperating witness is unclear.
Pannullo spoke highly of the now-former municipal attorney.
“I worked with Matt O’Donnell for 12 years, and if anyone has any doubt that Matt O’Donnell was an excellent attorney and an excellent confidant that elevated our township to new heights in all the things that we have fought for and the amount of time and effort that went into, come and pay me a visit in my office and I’ll tell you what I really think about him and how well this town is run,” the mayor said.
O’Donnell’s replacement will be decided by a public bid. Pannullo said the township will put out a request for proposals in the coming days.
Dan Antonelli, who serves as a special counsel to East Hanover and as a municipal attorney in several other towns, told the New Jersey Globe that he hasn’t decided whether he would apply for O’Donnell’s position.
The East Hanover contract was a profitable one for O’Donnell’s firm, O’Donnell McCord.
According to records obtained by the Globe, East Hanover paid the firm $1,097,531 in legal fees last year, $997,951 in 2018 and $888,136 in 2017.
East Hanover business administrator Joseph Tempesta, the Republican mayor of West Caldwell, received nearly $10,000 in campaign contributions from straw donors connected to O’Donnell.