Attorneys for Hunterdon County parties in Sheriff Trout suit want grand jury transcripts

In a case that some say has similarities to Gov. Christie's Bridgegate controversy, attorneys for several defendants in a federal lawsuit have filed a motion to compel the release of grand jury materials related to the indictments returned against former Hunterdon Sheriff's office staffers.

The state Attorney General previously filed a motion to quash a subpoena seeking those materials. The information is sought by the Hunterdon County defendants in federal a suit brought by former Sheriff Deborah Trout; Michael Russo, who was an undersheriff, and John Falat Jr., a former Sheriff's Office investigator.

Trout, Russo and Falat have joined in the state's motion to quash. The motion filed on behalf of Freeholders George Melick, William Mennen, Ronald Sworen, Matthew Holt, Erik Peterson, Robert Walton and county administrator Cynthia Yard seeks for that motion to be denied. The motion to compel would enforce request for most, but not all the information requested in the subpoenas.\

A hearing is scheduled for June 16.

Trout, Russo and Falat are suing the county and others in federal court claiming they are victims of malicious prosecution.

They were charged in a 43 count indictment with official misconduct and other crimes. After the state took control over the Hunterdon County Prosecutor's office, the indictments were later dismissed.

According to a brief filed with federal district court in support of the motion to quash, the indictments were dismissed because of "legal and factual deficiencies" and that the jury received incorrect instructions regarding First Amendment law. The charges were also not based on alleged acts the three allegedly committed themselves, the brief said.

On May 7 state appeals court overturned a judge’s ruling that the state must turn over transcripts of the grand jury proceedings in a state lawsuit filed by a former county assistant prosecutor.

Ben Barlyn, a former assistant county prosecutor, sought the evidence for his lawsuit claiming he was fired in 2010 for political reasons. He has drawn parallels between his case and the recent "Bridgegate" scandal. Barlyn claims that Trout has ties to members of Gov. Chris Christie's administration who were involved in having a case against her dismissed.

According to the suit, Barlyn was fired after objecting publicly at a department meeting to the dismissal of the indictments.

After Superior Court Judge Darlene Pereksta last August granted a motion to compel the state to turn over the grand jury information, the state appealed.

The state makes many of the same arguments it did in Barlyn's case: that the grand jury proceedings are meant to be kept secret and the request, which could cover hundreds of documents, is overly burdensome to the state.

Barlyn has contended that the grand jury materials are central to both cases. He has said that if they prove that the case was properly presented to the grand jury, then he was wrongfully dismissed. If the case was presented improperly, then that supports the claim of malicious prosecution.

Barlyn has subpoenaed Hunterdon County Prosecutor's Office employee, Kenneth Rowe. The state has filed a motion to quash that subpoena. A hearing is scheduled for June 20.

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