Monday, December 26, 2005


Below is a reprint of a Courier-Post story originally published on December 26, 2005.

Judge's assist in question

Monday, December 26, 2005

Courier-Post Staff

Barry M. Wright's re-election strategy required the assistance of a dear friend, a judge, who may have broken a rule to supply it.

If so, that wouldn't be the first instance of possible misconduct linked to Wright's campaigning via golf cart.

A Democratic member of the Winslow Township Committee, Wright canvassed for votes by driving a golf cart on township streets, a practice the retired police officer has defended but is against the law, according to state officials.

His helpful friend is lawyer Michael A. Diamond, the Democrat-appointed municipal court judge in Winslow. Diamond also serves in three other Camden County towns.

Wright, seeking voters' support for an ultimately unsuccessful campaign, used Diamond's utility trailer in October to tow the golf cart to different neighborhoods in his ward, according to township police records and photographs taken of Wright by a Republican activist.

If he provided the trailer for Wright, Diamond may have violated the state Code of Judicial Conduct, which prohibits judges from making "a contribution to a political . . . candidate."

Allegations of rule violations by judges are investigated by the state Supreme Court's Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct. The nine-member panel includes two retired state Supreme Court justices, four lawyers and three members of the public. The committee can recommend penalties up to and including removal from the bench.

Diamond, 51, of Winslow, declined to comment.

Wright's campaign didn't report the assistance to the state Election Law Enforcement Commission in its filing last month.

Jeffrey M. Brindle, ELEC's deputy director, could not comment on a specific case. He said the loan of equipment to a candidate or campaign must be disclosed.

"That would have to be reported as an in-kind contribution," he said. "The philosophy is to add sunlight to the process, so the public has the ability to see who is . . . providing contributions to candidates . . . That is in the public interest."

The maximum penalty for a first-time ELEC violation is $6,000.

Neither Wright nor Maryann A. Frye -- the Democrats' campaign treasurer, who signed the ELEC report -- returned calls to discuss the matter.

Diamond serves as the municipal court judge in Voorhees, Chesilhurst and Hi-Nella. He made a combined $103,600 for his work as the judge in those three communities last year, records show. Diamond also has a busy law practice based in an office off Route 73 in Winslow.

Township resident Jeffery Adams, 47, said he might be willing to give Diamond the benefit of the doubt in this case.

"If he didn't do anything immoral or unethical -- judges are people just like me and you -- and if it was in a friendly form, I'm OK with it," said Adams, owner of a mortgage brokerage and a title company.

The cost to rent a trailer such as Diamond's -- $60 a day at one local firm -- wouldn't have much burdened the Winslow Democrats' campaign account. The campaign, which saw its two other incumbents win and a challenger lose, reported spending $22,000 on the November election and a balance remaining of $63,400.

With Wright's loss to Republican Nick LoSasso, the GOP will gain a 5-4 majority at the township committee's reorganization meeting Jan. 6.

Reach Erik Schwartz at (856) 486-2904 or
UNofficially Winslow Notes:
Courier-Post Newspaper is available on-line. You can review the last seven days of newspapers for free.

And who owns the golf cart?

(Click anywhere on the photographs to enlarge.)

Click here for UNofficially Winslow's report of Wright and his golf cart. Includes audio clips of several Committee members including Wright claiming his golf cart is exempt from registration and insurance requirements. Wright tells the Mayor he will provide a copy of his exemption. UNofficially Winslow requested a copy, from the Winslow Clerk's Office, using an Open Public Records application. A copy of the Winslow Police response to the records request is also posted here.

Click here for the October 24, 2005 Courier-Post story regarding Wright and his golf cart.

Click here for the Courier-Post Editorial Board's October 30, 2005 opinion about Barry Wright and his golf cart.