The state attorney general’s office took a shot at the integrity of a respected former federal judge in a response brief involving the state’s cooperating witness in a corruption sting caper, attorney Matthew O’Donnell.
In court papers filed on Monday, Deputy Attorney General John Nicodemo and two other prosecutors claimed that Jose L. Linares, the former chief judge of the U.S. District Court for New Jersey, got it wrong when he dismissed charges against former Assemblyman Louis Manzo (D-Jersey City). Linares ruled that Manzo could not be accused of bribery because he no longer held public office.
The Manzo decision was heavily referenced in a motion to dismiss an indictment against another former assemblyman, Jason O’Donnell (D-Bayonne), a move the state opposes.
“The court’s interpretations appear to be strained and construed to achieve its ends,” Nicodemo and DAGs Trevor Taniguchi and Eric Cohen, said in language that appears to impugn Linares by suggesting that he manipulated an argument to get the result he wanted.
The attorney general’s office called Linares’ decision “illogical and misinterprets the statute to reach its result.
Linares’ analysis, the attorney general’s office argues, was “flawed.”
“The view espoused in Manzo, and which has been adopted by defendant, is illogical,” Nicodemo’s team argues. Two fact patterns elucidate this absurdity.”
The state argues that the Mazo ruling “does more than merely construe the definition of public servant.”
“It adds a condition which does not appear in the statute,” the attorney general’s office maintains. “Based on the district court’s logic, to be the recipient of a bribe, one must be able to ‘make good’ on the bribe giver’s ‘ask’ when the thing of value is exchanged.”
What’s not immediately clear from the court filings is whether Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and his team have deliberately set out to test the Manzo ruling in the state courts.
Nicodemo, through a spokesman, declined to discuss his brief.
The state argued that Superior Court Judge Mitzy Galis-Menendez is not bound by Linares’ federal court ruling.
“Comity and respectful consideration aside, the statute interpreted in Manzo was the New Jersey bribery statute, and New Jersey courts are free to interpret New Jersey statutes,” the brief stated. “New Jersey courts have interpreted the New Jersey bribery statute more broadly than the district court in Manzo.”
According to Nicodemo and the others, the federal court “misapplied state authority, which is already interpreted in the bribery statute.”
Several lawyers who spoke on the condition of anonymity told the New Jersey Globe that it is unusual for prosecutors to hurl seemingly personal attacks against a current or former member of the judiciary, especially to suggest that a decision was designed to achieve some sort of preordained result.
Manzo, who served on the Hudson County Board of Freeholders in the 1990s and was an assemblyman from 2004 to 2008, ran for Mayor of Jersey City in 2009. Incumbent Jerramiah Healy defeated him by a 53%-26% margin in the May non-partisan municipal election.
Federal prosecutors arrested him in July, alleging that he took $27,500 in cash payments from cooperating witness Solomon Dwek.
All charges against Manzo were dismissed.
The Third Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the ruling in 2011.
As the state’s cooperating witness, O’Donnell has netted five relatively small fish, including Jason O’Donnell, who is not related. Jason O’Donnell has been out of office since not seeking re-election in 2015.
A tax appeals lawyer who represented multiple municipal and county government entities in North and Central Jersey, Matt O’Donnell entered into a plea agreement with the state in June 2018.
Grewal allowed O’Donnell to bill an estimated $4.6 million in fees to municipal and county governments as a tax appeals attorney even after admitting to crimes that could result in a prison sentence.
O’Donnell agreed to plead guilty to one count of second degree Conspiracy to Commit Misconduct by a Corporate Official and forfeit $600,00 he made through an elaborate scheme that used illegal straw donors and cash contributions to obtain lucrative taxpayer-funded legal contracts.
The state will recommend that O’Donnell serve eight years in a state prison, according to a plea agreement obtained by the New Jersey Globe through a document request from the state judiciary last month.
Prosecutors and O’Donnell also agreed that the forfeiture amount would be “be subject to an upward revision to account for prospective profits that the defendant derives from illegal activities occurring after the date of this agreement but in connection with his cooperation.”
The prosecution of O’Donnell has been going on for nearly four years.