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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Punishing Political Enemies With Prison? New Jersey As Banana Republic?

The concept of jailing your political opponents is one that evokes images of totalitarian despots and banana republics along the lines of the fictional country in "Moon Over Parador."

But one new revelation buried in interview memoranda released yesterday by the lawyers for the New Jersey Governor's Office (the firm of Gibson, Dunn) could suggest that political considerations could affect your liberty.

(See Eric Dixon's legal analysis of the original Gibson, Dunn internal investigation report here.) 

This nugget of information about former federal prosecutor turned Department of Community Affairs head under Christie, Richard Constable, reveals that Constable himself claimed to the lawyers at Gibson, Dunn that he was going to be appointed Essex County Prosecutor once Christie became Governor in 2010.

One problem, though. Constable did not have the requisite five years of experience as a New Jersey lawyer. 

In fact, he had zero.  

Constable took the New Jersey bar in 2010. DCA was a way to get him management experience while he amassed the "five years of legal experience."  (Note: Constable was a New York barred lawyer who was able to appear in federal court because he was admitted to the federal bar and specifically admitted to the District of New Jersey. State bar admission not necessary. But once leaving the Justice Department, Constable needed to take the state bar exam in order to practice.)

But why, with all the hundreds or thousands of fine lawyers in New Jersey, why the effort to put this one crony (a former assistant federal prosecutor under Christie at the Newark U.S. Attorney's Office, who handled corruption cases) in the Essex County Prosecutor's Office? (The former head of that office, Paula Dow, became Christie's first Attorney General.)

Incidentally, we've seen this "reaching" for a particular person when numerous other unquestionably more qualified people were available. We saw it when Christie tried to appoint Phil Kwon, and then non-litigator Bruce Harris, to the New Jersey Supreme Court in 2012. Kwon's nomination was withdrawn after the allegations his family engaging in illegal money-structuring transactions surfaced, while Harris was rejected by the State Senate.

(Full disclosure: I testified in opposition to Bruce Harris on May 31, 2012.) 

Might this be a way to have someone loyal to Christie handling the levers of "prosecutorial discretion" to ensure investigations get stopped -- while others get started up and, possibly, innocent people (but political enemies) get railroaded?

More to the point: Does this indicate another effort to use the state's prosecutorial power for political gain? (The flip side is that political enemies could have their liberty jeopardized. Prime examples are some of the Bid Rig investigations and prosecutions, and of course, the prosecution of now-jailed former Alabama Governor Donald Siegelman.)

Now, who in Essex County, New Jersey might be someone who would be up for protection? Or, conversely, who would be a political rival ripe for targeting and elimination? 

And the real offensive issue is how one's political alliances can affect one's liberty. 

In short, this new information hints, at least, at the atrocious and scandalous possibility that crossing the wrong powerful people in New Jersey (or elsewhere) can put your freedom in jeopardy.


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