Home>Feature>Judge says Warren County prosecutor was conflicted in case against ex-Phillipsburg councilman

Former Phillipsburg Councilman Frank McVey. (Photo: Frank McVey).

Judge says Warren County prosecutor was conflicted in case against ex-Phillipsburg councilman

Court questions political motivation of charges against Frank McVey, but doesn’t dismiss indictment

By David Wildstein, February 08 2023 5:51 pm

Because Warren County Prosecutor James L. Pfeiffer had once represented Phillipsburg Mayor Todd Tersigni in a private legal matter, a Superior Court Judge has disqualified the entire prosecutor’s office from participating in the case against Frank McVey, a former Phillipsburg councilman who was charged with threatening Tersigni.

Judge Peter Tober ruled today that a 2021 indictment against McVey, which caused him to resign his council seat and drop his re-election bid, should instead be handled by another prosecutor or the state attorney general’s office.

“The defendant has appropriately pointed to a conflict of interest regarding a former relationship between the Prosecutor and the mayor and argues that the prosecutor’s individual recusal from the matter is not enough.  This court agrees,” Tober said in his decision.  “While the conflict of interest pertaining to the prosecutor’s former representation of the mayor is admittedly remote since it occurred 14 years ago, the prosecutor’s former representation of the mayor causes this court (and presumably the public), to question whether the decision to prosecute the defendant appears politically motivated.”

McVey is represented by Michael Critchley, one of the state’s dominating criminal defense attorneys, and his law partner, Armando Suarez.  They argued that Pfeiffer’s initial involvement in the investigation tied the hands of Assistant Prosecutor Anthony Robinson after he delegated the probe to him.

“The Prosecutor admitted to having reviewed all the material only to have a criminal complaint follow one day after the delegation,” Tober determined.  “A legitimate question arises as to whether the First Assistant could truly undertake an impartial material review of this politically charged complaint in one day.”

But Tober declined to dismiss the indictment against McVey, finding that the state properly presented the allegations to the grand jury.

Pfeiffer is a former Superior Court judge who became a prosecutor after a post-judicial stint in private practice.

A former New Jersey State Police captain, McVey was indicted for threatening to blackmail Tersigni.  Prosecutors alleged that McVey tried to intimidate and bully the mayor.  Prosecutors claimed McVey wanted to become council president and then run against Tersigni this year.

Tersigni was denied the support of the local Republican Party to run for re-election – they are backing Councilman Randy Piazza, Jr. – and is expected to switch parties and seek re-election as a Democrat.

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