Experts: Enough evidence to pursue Hoboken mayor's claims against Christie administrationJames Cohen in The Star-Ledger, January 21, 2014
Leading trial attorneys and legal experts said today that the U.S. Attorney's Office of New Jersey has enough evidence to pursue a serious investigation into allegations that the Democratic mayor of Hoboken made against Gov. Chris Christie's administration this weekend.
"The word of a single person under oath, if believed, can be considered by a jury as proof beyond a reasonable doubt," said Darren Gelber, president of the Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers of New Jersey. "There are people serving long prison terms based on the sworn testimony of a single person without any corroborating physical evidence. "
He added, "Does that mean prosecutors like those cases? Of course not."
The mayor, Dawn Zimmer, has accused Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and another member of Christie's cabinet of attempting to strong-arm her into supporting a three-block development on a prime piece of real estate in the densely populated city.
Zimmer said Saturday on MSNBC that the Christie administration starved the city of Hurricane Sandy recovery money because she refused to acquiesce to the requests. She offered entries from a personal journal as evidence, which she subsequently turned over to the U.S. Attorney's Office when she met with investigators Sunday.
And Monday, Zimmer said federal authorities had visited Hoboken to interview officials.
Interest in the mayor claims comes at the same time the U.S. Attorney's Office is reviewing the September lane closures on to the George Washington Bridge, which are also the subject of an ongoing investigation by the state Legislature.
But James Cohen, a law professor at Fordham University, said the Hoboken case is more serious.
"Closing the George Washington Bridge, that is very serious. It takes a lot of balls," Cohen said. "But this deals with dollars — the misuse of federal tax dollars. The feds will treat that very, very serious."
Aidan O'Connor, an attorney with PashmanStein and a former federal prosecutor, said he was not surprised by the quick response of the U.S. Attorney's Office considering the gravity of Zimmer's charges and the enormous public interest.
"You're going to need corroboration or proof of something that happened as a result of something the mayor did or did not do," O'Connor said. "The prosecutor’s office is going to need some corroboration that there was this threat of economic retaliation."
He said the mayor's journal typically would not be admissible in court unless prosecutors need to use it to prove Zimmer did not just make up the claims because of the Christie administration's struggles, or if someone challenges Zimmer's memory of the encounters.
"At the end of the day, it’s still her word against the lieutenant governor's word at this stage," O'Connor said.
But Cohen said the diary would be "a very important piece of evidence."
"It adds credibility to the statement," the Fordham professor said. "She took the trouble to write something down."
Cohen added that prosecutors will likely begin looking for other officials and mayors to see if they were pressured and whether they caved.
"Unless they can find no other evidence, which would surprise me, this would definitely go to court," he said. "You're going to see people lining up to cooperate."
The reason for that, Cohen said, is simple: The penalties could be serious — with some crimes carrying a minimum of five years in prison.
"You're not talking about disorderly conduct," he said.