Home>Governor>John W. Noonan, assistant counsel to Gov. Meyner in 1950s, dies at 93

John W. Noonan, an assistant counsel to Gov. Robert B. Meyner from 1955 to 1957. (Photo: Michael J. Higgins Funeral Home.)

John W. Noonan, assistant counsel to Gov. Meyner in 1950s, dies at 93

Former prosecutor, judge represented Hudson Democratic Chairman in 1971 corruption case

By David Wildstein, January 17 2021 4:08 pm

John W. Noonan, who served as an Assistant Counsel to Gov. Robert Meyner in the 1950s, died on January 5.  He was 93.

Noonan joined Meyner’s staff in 1955 at age 27, after graduating Columbia University Law School and working briefly at McCarter and English.

In 1957, Noonan played an active role in Meyner’s re-election campaign against Republican State Sen. Malcolm S. Forbes (R-Bedminster).  The following year, Noonan led an insurgent group seeking to topple Belleville Democratic Municipal Chairman Ralph Vara but lost his county committee race by a 3-2 margin.

Noonan also served as an assistant Essex County Prosecutor and deputy state attorney general before entering private practice in the 1960s.  He tried a high profile Jersey City political corruption case in 1971 and was briefly the defense attorney for John Artis, the co-defendant in the famed Ruben “Hurricane” Carter murder trial.

President Bill Clinton appointed Noonan to serve as a U.S. Administrative Law Judge for the Social Security Administration in 1997.

When eight Hudson County Demcoratic officials were charged with corruption in 1971, Noonan represented Walter Wolfe, a freeholder, and the Hudson County Democratic Chairman.

Noonan contended that Wolfe had two metal fragments in his brain as a result of a World War II injury that caused him to lack the capacity to form any “criminal resolutions.”

U.S. Attorney Herbert Stern had alleged that Wolfe was part of a kickback conspiracy where companies doing business with Hudson County and Jersey City would make cash contributions to political campaigns. Stern said Wolfe kept the money in a safe at Democratic headquarters.

All of the Hudson Eight were found guilty, including Jersey City Mayor Thomas Whelan, who faced similar allegations in a separate trial.

He represented Vincent Kearney, Jr. in the high-profile murder trial of Judith Kavanaugh, whose death was linked to the killing of mob boss “Johnny the Walk” DeFranco.  The case remains unsolved.

In 1960, Noonan led a group of Belleville activists in a bid to change the municipal government from a Board of Commissioners to a strong Mayor and elected town council.

He served in the U.S. Army during World War II, assigned to the 11th Airborne Division in the Philippines.

Noonan is survived by his wife, Eileen, six children, four step-children, 16 grandchildren and a great-grandchild.  His late father, Benjamin Noonan, was a popular semi-pro baseball player.  His aunt, Katherine Noonan, was a former Paterson school board member.

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