John Azzarello is widely viewed as an extraordinary lawyer, the kind of guy who might wind up on a short list for U.S. Attorney or U.S. District Court Judge someday. He’s a partner at a politically influential law firm; his partners are Jack Arsenault, who was nearly James E. McGreevey’s Attorney General, and John Farmer, Jr., who was Attorney General under Christine Todd Whitman and Donald DiFrancesco. He’s a former Assistant U.S. Attorney who was Deputy Chief of the Criminal Division. He went to Washington with Tom Kean as counsel to the 9/11 Commission.
On Friday, Azzarello did what other good white collar criminal defense attorneys do – he sought the mercy of a judge who was about to sentence his client – in this case a corrupt former public official, Mims Hackett. And while he was ultimately successful – Hackett can serve his federal and state sentences concurrently and may only have to spend six months of his five year state sentence in prison – his argument wasn’t exactly up there with Temple Houston.
Here’s how the Star-Ledger reported it:
Azzarello asked the judge to give the former lawmaker less prison time than the plea agreement called for, noting that although Hackett pleaded guilty to official misconduct, “this offense was not as serious.”
“He was not selling his office for gain,” Azzarello said. “You had someone who was cheating on his expenses. He led an exemplary life until this offense.”
He said he did not believe Hackett submitted the phony vouchers out of greed.
“He didn’t systematically take money from the city,” Azzarello said. “He started by trying to recoup expenses and it got out of line.”
Deputy Attorney General Michael Monahan disagreed, noting the vouchers were submitted over a period from Sept. 26, 2002 to Nov. 28, 2006 and included 41 receipts attached to 17 purchase orders. Most of the purchase orders were for more than $200 each, he noted.
“This was his way of doing business,” Monahan said. “This was done because he could. He surrounded himself with loyalists who wouldn’t question the receipts. He violated his oath of office time and time again.”