Mount Laurel Councilwoman Tracy Riley resigned from the Burlington County Democratic Committee today because her law practice put her in a politically sensitive position.
"After long conversations with the leaders of the Burlington County Democratic Party, it has become apparent we have irreconcilable differences regarding my private work," said Riley in a statement released this morning. "I do not want my private legal work to become a distraction in this party's pursuit of government reform. Simultaneously, I am dedicated to honoring the oath I have taken as a lawyer and will continue to provide a zealous defense as the Constitution requires. Therefore, I am resigning my position within the Burlington County Democratic Committee."
Riley's statement did not cite any specific conflicts, but two Democratic sources said the problem stemmed from her work on a high profile case involving illegal immigrants.
Riley is the court-appointed defense lawyer for Lucio Garcia-Sanchez, a 19-year-old immigrant from Mexico who is in the United States illegally. Garcia-Sanchez was a passenger in a car driven by his brother, Jose Luis Galindo-Sanchez – also an undocumented immigrant — that killed popular 27-year-old middle school teacher Amy Voorhees. According to newspaper reports, Galindo-Sanchez caused the accident by running a red light.
Prosecutors charged Garcia-Sanchez as a material witness for allegedly leaving the scene of the accident at the behest of his brother to conceal information from police.
Burlington County Democratic Chairman Rick Perr did not refer to the Garcia-Sanchez case specifically, but made it clear that Riley's clients made her politically vulnerable.
"Today, I have respectfully accepted Tracy Riley's resignation from the Burlington County Democratic Committee. Tracy is a zealous advocate for the constitutional rights of her clients and wishes to pursue her career in such a manner," he said. "As the elected Chairman of the Burlington County Democratic Committee, I have taken a pledge to execute our organization's mission to represent the working families of Burlington County. It has become apparent that Tracy's private legal work may be at odds with that mission."
Immigration has become an issue in this year's District 8 assembly race, with Republican incumbents Dawn Marie Addiego (R-Evesham) and Scott Rudder (R-Medford) calling on Democrats Bill Brown and Debbie Sarcone to publicly denounce the recommendations made by Gov. Corzine's blue ribbon immigration panel, which include ways to offer illegal immigrants in-state college tuition and driver's licenses. Brown and Sarcone in turn accused Addiego and Rudder of being "Limbaugh dittoheads."
Riley did not have any official leadership position in the party, but she was one of its more high profile members. Aside from being a current elected official, she made an unsuccessful but well-funded run for assembly in 2007.
In that race, Republicans attacked Tracy Riley because her husband and law partner, Michael Riley, represented Shain Duka — one of the defendants charged in the Fort Dix terror plot. In an October, 2007 campaign mailer, Republicans asked "Tracy Riley, whose values will she represent in Trenton? Ours? Or theirs?"
Democrats publicly defended Riley at the time, but behind the scenes were upset that Michael Riley did not drop the case. One source said Tracy Riley told Democratic leaders early on in the campaign that she would ask her husband not to represent Duka, but reneged — an account that Tracy Riley disputes.