Last month saw the fall of a powerful state Republican, George Gilmore. Following convictions for failing to pay withholding taxes in full for two quarters and making a false statement on a loan refinancing, he resigned the chairmanship of the Ocean County GOP and his seat on the county Board of Elections after more than two decades in each.
The resignations were appropriate, even though his attorney, Kevin Marino, claims the prosecution was political and says he’s confident that he’ll get the jury verdicts overturned. U.S. District Court Judge Anne E. Thompson has scheduled arguments on his motion for May 30. Meanwhile, Gilmore remains convicted of three felonies and shouldn’t remain in office or a position of political power.
Just before Gilmore’s trial ended, the South Jersey Transportation Authority passed on a chance to end its contract for legal services with Gilmore’s law firm, Gilmore & Monahan. Doing so before a verdict obviously would have been premature.
Yet Gov. Phil Murphy vetoed the minutes of that SJTA meeting, apparently to pressure the authority to drop the law firm. Doing so would be safe and as matters stand, the authority was likely to do so eventually on its own. Murphy’s action looks political.
Several factors argue for less urgency in ending the contract than in Gilmore resigning his positions.
One is that Gilmore has cut his ties to the law firm, and as SJTA board member Sonny McCullough said, he didn’t generally handle SJTA work anyway. Authority board members should also consider whether an abrupt termination of the contract would cost more or adversely affect current legal affairs.
Another is that Gilmore’s chance of prevailing upon appeal may be significant. He was found not guilty of filing false tax returns, and on perhaps the most serious charge he faced — evading income taxes from 2013-2015 — the jury couldn’t reach a verdict. Federal prosecutors had publically alleged that Gilmore failed to pay more than $1 million in taxes, which sounds like a conviction should have been easy if it were true.
Public officials should resign their positions promptly upon conviction, of course, especially if their crime involved violating the public trust. Continuing to use the services of a convicted official’s former private firm is a gray area that requires a dispassionate analysis and a decision.
Marino filed his motion to overturn the verdicts on Monday and in just a couple of weeks the arguments on the motion are scheduled to begin in federal court. The SJTA might have quickly ended its contract with Gilmore & Monahan on its own. Now it apparently will be forced to by Murphy.
There’s a chance the case against Gilmore will get stronger or weaker soon and if it does, the actions of Murphy and the SJTA may appear in a different light.