A Superior Court Judge today sealed a list of potential targets in a state corruption probe, including a list of individuals cooperating witness Matthew O’Donnell offered to contact and a list of people prosecutors asked O’Donnell to connect with.
Deputy Attorney General John Nicodemo acknowledged that there are ongoing investigations related to a cooperation agreement O’Donnell and his law firm entered into with Attorney General Gurbir Grewal’s office in June 2018.
Also disclosed in today’s hearing: state and federal prosecutors were conducting joint investigations in matters involving O’Donnell.
O’Donnell, who served as tax counsel or municipal attorney for multiple municipalities, billed government entities more than $4.6 million since his participation in a sting operation began three years ago, according to Leo Hurley, an attorney for one of the defendants charged, former Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell (D-Bayonne).
Hurley said that Matt O’Donnell, who is not related his client, proactively offered up a list of people he felt the state could build a case against. He also said that the state came up with their own list of individuals they asked O’Donnell to contact as part of their investigation.
Galis-Menendez acknowledged that the attorney general’s office made a mistake in court filings that disclosed the names of the potential targets.
“It was filled with deficiencies,” Galis-Menendez said. “There’s no doubt the state made a mistake.”
Galis-Menendez said the state could have filed a protective order or a motion to seal before turning over discovery to Hurley, but erroneously failed to do so.
The attorney general’s office filed the motion to seal records on March 24, two days after the New Jersey Globe sought copies of public court filings related to charges against Jason O’Donnell.
Nicodemo argued that the seal was necessary to protect individuals who have not been charged and whose identification would cause them irreparable harm.
“This is in no way is the state undermining the essential nature of the press,” Nicodemo said.
Hurley called the state’s bid to seal documents “a shotgun order.”
“This is no differentiation in sworn form before this court as to who are just uncharged innocent individuals and what are ongoing investigations,” he said.
In his argument to the judge, Hurley launched a grenade at Matt O’Donnell’s credibility.
“The reason this is being done is because by entering a shotgun order here, without having to in sworn form articulate to this court who from the mouth of their cooperating, con-artist, lying witness provided information that led to someone being found innocent versus information from their cooperating, con-artist, lying, bilking the government and the taxpayers out of $6.5 million of taxpayer of funds (witness) after he entered a plea,” Hurley said.
Hurley also said that that prosecutors, “by failing to draw the line to those ongoing investigations, what they are attempting to do through this wholesale order without acknowledging who specifically falls into each category is an end-around to their discovery obligations.
Keith Miller, an attorney representing NJ Advance Media, said there was a “very, very strong presumption of public access to court records.”
Galis-Menendez said that whatever charges Matt O’Donnell agreed to plead guilty to will eventually become public.
“It’s a matter of time, his day is coming,” she said.
Nicodemo said that was correct.
While Galis-Menendez granted most of the state’s requests to seal documents, she pledged that the defendant would get whatever she thinks he needs.
“I’m not impairing Mr. (Jason) O’Donnell’s defense, not even an iota,” the judge said.
Redacted briefs to be filed on April 5.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story includes quotes that are in dispute. In an abundance of caution, they have been removed temporarily pending additional confirmation.