A New Jersey judge has thrown out a malicious prosecution lawsuit filed by Hunterdon County’s former sheriff and two subordinates, in a case that could affect an ex-assistant prosecutor’s claims that the prosecution was dropped because it involved an ally of Gov. Chris Christie.
The ruling released Monday is the latest chapter in a yearslong parade of civil actions involving the Hunterdon County prosecutor’s office and sheriff’s office.
Former Hunterdon County Sheriff Deborah Trout, Undersheriff Michael Russo and investigator John Falat Jr. had claimed a 43-count indictment that charged them with official misconduct and other offenses was in retaliation for Trout’s and Russo’s previously filing whistleblower complaints against the county.
Attorney William Courtney, who represents the three plaintiffs, said there were several grounds on which Superior Court Judge Philip Maenza’s ruling could be appealed, and that he would discuss those options with his clients.
“We feel that the judge was simply wrong in his decision,” Courtney said Tuesday. Maenza is a judge in Sussex County.
Several months after a Hunterdon County grand jury handed up the indictment, the state attorney general’s office stepped in and took the rare action of dismissing it in August 2010, saying it wasn’t legally sound.
Then-Hunterdon County assistant prosecutor Ben Barlyn claims in a separate lawsuit that he was fired after saying the case was dropped because a member of Christie’s transition team was a material witness, though not charged.
Barlyn’s lawsuit alleges Dr. Robert was one of the people investigators suspected Russo provided a fake law enforcement ID card. Hariri and his wife donated more than $10,000 to Christie’s 2009 gubernatorial campaign, and he was a member of the Republican governor’s transition team.
Barlyn also contends Trout, Russo and Falat were Christie supporters and that Russo told a reporter that Christie would step in and “have this whole thing thrown out.” Russo has denied that claim.
Christie has repeatedly denied having any involvement in the dropping of the indictment, and he is not a defendant in Barlyn’s lawsuit. The suit names former state Attorney General Paula Dow, a Christie nominee, and several other state and county law enforcement officials.
Barlyn’s suit is pending.
The Hunterdon prosecutor’s office, which was in the spotlight during the manslaughter trial and subsequent appeals of former NBA player Jayson Williams, has been the target of several discrimination and wrongful termination lawsuits over the last several years.
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