Judge lightens sentence for lawyer

A Superior Court Judge —who then-Gov. Chris Christie had nominated in 2012 to serve as an Associate Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court— on Friday rejected the state attorney general’s office recommendation to jail a lawyer who admitted that she participated in a political corruption scheme.

Prosecutors ask Superior Court Judge Robert Hanna in Morris County to incarcerate Elizabeth Valandingham, 49, of Morristown, for 364 days in the county jail but he instead sentenced her to three years’ probation and 324 hours of community service.

Hanna’s nomination for the top court was never considered by the state Senate Judiciary Committee.

Valandingham pleaded guilty on April 13, 2021 to a third-degree charge of tampering with public records.

Valandingham acknowledged that her firm, O’Donnell McCord, failed to file accurate business entity disclosures in Bloomfield and Mount Arlington in a deliberate attempt to conceal political contributions made by the firm through various individuals who were reimbursed in cash.

She testified that she prepared proposals for public contracts for legal services involving tax appeals. O’Donnell told prosecutors that his firm had contracts with about 18 municipal and county governments.

Under the plea agreement, she forfeited her law license and was ordered to pay a $75,000 public corruption profiteering penalty. She also is debarred from any public contracts for a period of 10 years.

Valandingham is a former law partner of Matthew O’Donnell, the state’s cooperating witness in a corruption sting that netted former Jersey City Board of Education President Sudhan Thomas, former Morris County Freeholder John Cesaro, and former Mount Arlington Councilman John Cesaro.

Elizabeth Valandingham

A judge dismissed the indictment of former Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell (no relation to Matt O’Donnell), who was accused of taking bribes while running for mayor of Bayonne.

Another defendant who was not indicted, Mary Dougherty, the wife of Morristown’s mayor, was sentenced to probation after pleading to a downgraded charge of falsifying a campaign finance report.

New Jersey Superior Court Judge James M DeMarzo was appointed to the court by former Governor Jon Corzine on January 12, 2010, after he and Matthew O’Donnell each contributed $3400 to Christie’s successful campaign to defeat the Democratic incumbent.

DeMarzo was a managing partner at the firm of O’Donnell, McCord and DeMarzo in Morristown, but he has not been charged in connection with the crimes to which his former partner and law firm have pleaded guilty.

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