TRENTON – A Superior Court judge approved Roselle Council President Jamel Holley’s request to enter a pretrial intervention program for his alleged violation of New Jersey’s absentee ballot law.
The Attorney General’s Office filed criminal charges against Holley this summer, related to irregularities that resulted in a 2006 primary election result being overturned. If Holley successfully completes the program, the criminal charges could be dismissed with no conviction on the politician’s record.
Holley was accused of tampering with ballots in the 2006 Democratic primary election contest between Rosemary Bullock and Christine Dansereau for Roselle’s 5th Ward council seat. Bullock was originally determined to be the winner of the election, but Dansereau took office after a civil court judge tossed out 31 absentee ballots upon hearing testimony from voters that Holley had filled out voter names and addresses on inner ballot envelopes that were meant to be completed by the voters themeselves.
“[Holley] was not familiar with the absentee voting system, and apparently, generally, the absentee voter voted for the candidate of their choice in this Democratic Primary,” Judge Robert Billmeier said in his ruling Wednesday at Mercer County Courthouse in Trenton.
“The voter signed the certification, and Mr. Holley, being not educated in this, then filled out an envelope giving the name and address of the absentee voter, and then as the bearer, brought these results, sometimes directly from the voter, sometimes from a third party.”
Billmeir said that there was nothing fraudulent about Holley’s actions on June 6, 2006, though he did say that Holley acted overzealously.
Holley’s lawyer said that the decision was a vindication for his client.
“This was a minor procedural technicality whereby there was no criminal intent on my client’s part to violate the sanctity of the electoral process,” said attorney Melvin Wright. “I felt this case should have remained in the civil arena, and never been injected in the criminal arena.”
The Attorney General’s Office alleged that Holley illegally tampered with absentee ballots by improperly completing portions of the ballots of at least 20 voters. His critics – including Gov. Jon Corzine – called for Holley to resign from the borough council after the criminal charge became public
Before the judge ruled on Wednesday, the Attorney General’s Office objected to the terms.
“The defendant’s conduct was not a mere technical violation,” Deputy Attorney General Erik Daab wrote to the court. “His conduct violated one of the core requirements of our democracy, the secret ballot.”
It was not immediately clear if the Attorney General’s Office intends to appeal Billmeir’s decision.
Under the judge’s ruling, Holley must pay a $125 fine and participate in the pretrial intervention program for 12 months. It upholds his right to remain in office as Council President.
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