It looks like Morristown Attorney Matt O’Donnell, the central figure in a political bribery case that has implicated the mayor’s wife, won’t be working for the town anymore.
The town council is poised on Tuesday to replace O’Donnell’s firm as special tax appeals counsel with the Warren firm of former Governor and former state Sen. Donald DiFrancesco.
Attorneys from DiFrancesco, Bateman, Kunzman, Davis, Lehrer & Flaum will be paid $150 an hour. Martin Allen of that firm represented Morristown in its landmark 2015 tax settlement with the parent company of Morristown Medical Center. The nonprofit agreed to pay the town approximately $26 million over a decade.
O’Donnell’s replacement is listed among municipal appointments for consideration by the council at the town’s annual reorganization meeting.
These are mayoral selections that the council may approve or reject; every year, they are approved with little or no discussion.
When asked to comment, however, Mayor Dougherty said he has been advised by the town attorney to recuse himself “from all matters related to recommendations to the town council of tax appeal attorneys.”
He referred questions to town Attorney Vij Pawar, who did not immediately respond to Morristown Green’s request for comment on Sunday evening. Council President Toshiba Foster also did not immediately respond.
O’Donnell, who has represented Morristown for years in tax appeal cases, has not responded to several requests for comment from Morristown Green.
Although not mentioned by name, O’Donnell appears to be the “cooperating witness” in last month’s criminal complaint by state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal.
The complaint alleges the cooperating witness delivered $10,000 in a takeout coffee cup to Mary Dougherty during her unsuccessful 2018 run for Morris County Freeholder, in exchange for a pledge of county work if she won.
Mary Dougherty served on the planning board in the late 2000s when O’Donnell was the board attorney. She has said she will be vindicated in court.
If convicted of accepting bribes, a second-degree crime, she could face up to 10 years in prison and $150,000 in fines.
Authorities also contend the same cooperating witness paid tens of thousands of dollars for similar promises from Jersey City School Board President Sudhan Thomas; former Mount Arlington Council Member John Windish; and Jason O’Donnell, a former state Assemblyman and former Bayonne mayoral candidate.
Some of the money allegedly was funneled through “straw donors,” to circumvent limits on individual campaign contributions.
The attorney general’s complaint also cites an “Individual 1” who allegedly received cash–some of it in a coffee cup–from the cooperating witness since 2011, while that cooperating witness received work from the town. Individual 1 allegedly reached out to the cooperating witness on Mary Dougherty’s behalf.
Mayor Tim Dougherty, who says he supports his wife “100 percent,” has told Morristown Green he is not Individual 1.
Morristown is not the only place cutting ties with O’Donnell McCord, O’Donnell’s firm, in the wake of the bribery case.
Morris County, Mt. Arlington, Bloomfield, Wall and Manalapan have opted not to reappoint, according to The New Jersey Globe, a political blog. Jersey City dropped O’Donnell as its tax appeal lawyer last year.