New Jersey’s five worst prosecutors

Does John Molinelli, in the news this week for vacationing in Italy with State Senator Joseph Coniglio, the target of a federal criminal investigation, and with Bergen County Democratic Organization counsel Dennis Oury, make the list of the five worst county prosecutors in recent years?

Here are four who clearly make our list:

  • Two weeks before James Florio was to take office as Governor in 1990, Camden County Prosecutor Samuel Asbell held a news conference to tell a rather spectacular story: he said two gunmen had ambushed him in what became a high speed New Year’s Day gun battle. Asbell said he shot one of the gunmen with a sawed-off shotgun he carried in his car. He said machine gun fire shattered his car windows. But investigators for the State Police found that Asbell had staged the entire event as a last-ditch effort to keep his job under a Democratic Governor. He resigned and entered a mental health facility for treatment.

  • Nicholas Bissell, the Somerset County Prosecutor, was convicted on federal corruption charges that started when he agreed to drop cocaine possession charges against a man who then agreed to forfeit two lots that were sold at auction to Bissell’s friend. He was awaiting sentencing in 1996 when he cut off his electronic monitoring bracelet and drove to Nevada. Tracing a cell phone call to his wife, U.S. Marshals found the armed ex-Prosecutor in a motel. After a ten minute standoff, Bissell shot and killed himself.

  • John Kaye, who spent 22 years as the Monmouth County Prosecutor, had been accused of being too cozy with local politicians. Just before leaving office in 2005, there were allegations that he interfered with Operation Bid Rig, a federal investigation of political corruption in Monmouth. In December 2004, federal agents advised Kaye of their sting and requested that he do nothing that might tip off public officials who were targeted. Kaye later acknowledged that his office did interview two of the individuals involved anyway, as part of his own corruption probe. A lawyer for then-Keyport Mayor John Merla said that Kaye specifically asked about the same informant and contractor who were cooperating with the U.S. Attorney.

  • Patricia Hurt, who became the Essex County Prosecutor at the strong suggestion of County Executive James Treffinger, resigned in 1999 after Attorney General John Farmer stripped her of her powers and literally removed her from her office. Hurt had been widely criticized for her handling of a high profile murder trial, and for spending irregularities that became the subject of federal and state probes. And when her chauffeur-driven county car was stopped for speeding on the Garden State Parkway, Hurt alleged racial profiling.
New Jersey’s five worst prosecutors