As her dad, Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise looked on, Jersey City’s embattled lawmaker Amy DeGise yesterday pleaded guilty to “leaving the scene of an accident involving injury or death.”
DeGise’s plea was the culmination of a 6-month ordeal that the city’s at-large lawmaker triggered when she drove her Nissan Rogue SUV through the intersection of Forrest Street and Martin Luther King Drive shortly after 8 a.m. on July 19, 2022, knocking bike and rider to the pavement. About six hours later, DeGise informed police about the incident. The biker was treated at the Jersey City Medical Center for non-life-threatening injuries.
DeGise, appearing before Essex Vicinage Special Remand Court Judge Shandra Cole in Newark, also agreed to pay a $5,000 fine and to a one-year suspension of her driver’s license.
An additional motor vehicle charge of failure to report an accident, along with an unpaid street cleaning parking ticket, were dismissed as part of a plea agreement, whose terms were negotiated by the state—represented by Assistant County Prosecutor Tamara Chambers and DeGise’s lawyers—John Lynch, of Union City, and Brian Neary, of Hackensack.
In a memo to the court, Chambers noted that, “Our office has continuously attempted to contact the victim, Andrew Black, (but) to date, he has not responded to any of our calls, texts and/or correspondence. The issue of restitution would be determined at a later hearing.”
After the hearing, Neary told reporters that Black has filed a notice of intent to sue the city of Jersey City in connection with injuries allegedly sustained in the accident. If such a suit is filed, Neary said that under a legal procedure known as “civil reservation,” the testimony at yesterday’s hearing “is not to be allowed in a civil lawsuit—it will not be used against (my client).”
Since the incident, two of DeGise’s City Council colleagues—James Solomon (Ward E) and Frank Gilmore (Ward F)—along with many city residents—called for DeGise to step down. She has refused to do so. And she has continued to serve in her job as apprentice coordinator for the Hudson County School of Technology.
In a statement issued during the summer, DeGise said that since the incident, she’s experienced “some of the most difficult and traumatic times of my entire life,” that she was “grateful that no one was seriously injured, and I feel horrible about the situation.”
During yesterday’s hearing, Neary agreed that while his client may have failed to pay a street parking ticket—something he termed “an occupational hazard in Hudson County”—she had acquired “no moving violations” nor been ticketed for “careless driving” and “had the green light” at the time of the accident.
Neary said there was “no allegation of drunk driving” when the accident occurred.
When the judge prodded the attorney to expand on what he called DeGise’s “lapse in judgment” in failing to stop and check on the biker after the incident, Neary said DeGise “feels terrible about this and she’ll learn she becomes a better public servant and an example to the citizens of Jersey City (by showing) if you mess up, you take your responsibility.”
And he predicted that, after going through this experience, DeGise “is not going to be standing before this court or any other jurisdiction on any other transgression.”
Addressing DeGise directly, Judge Cole asked: “What if something even worse had occurred and a more tragic outcome had taken place? Thank goodness, (the biker) was able to walk away.”
Still, noting that the incident represented DeGise’s “first offense,” Cole said she was “going with the negotiated plea,” which provides for “no jail time.”
Later, asked by a reporter to account for the 6-hour delay in reporting the accident, Neary said, “there needs to be no explanation…. Her judgement in leaving the scene was wrong…one of the foibles of humanity…. Now she’s making amends for it.”
But his explanation didn’t satisfy two Jersey City residents who have added their voices to the calls for DeGise’s resignation. Outside the courthouse, Kevin Bing and Nick Zurawski unfurled a banner reiterating that demand. Bing insisted that many people remain “fired up and angry” over the lawmaker’s actions.
“She’s counting on residents’ apathy,” Bing said, to help erase the memory of the deed. A recall, he added, “is one option on the table” to shake up the electorate and uproot what he called “the entrenched political machine in Hudson County.”