On April 13, 1857, less than a month after Union County was created from what had been part of Essex County, John J. Chetwood was named the first Union County Prosecutor. During the more than 155 years that have followed, the Union County Prosecutor’s Office has experienced many changes, but its purpose remains the same – to protect and serve the public.
Click on the names of current acting Union County Prosecutor Thomas K. Isenhour or any of the 25 Union County Prosecutors who preceded him to learn more about each person and the history of the Office.
A businessman with extensive land holdings and an active supporter of the advancement of education in Central Jersey prior to becoming involved in public service, John J. Chetwood was named the first Union County Prosecutor shortly after the county’s establishment in March 1857. The former member of the Essex County Council and a former Essex County Surrogate, an Elizabeth resident, died in 1861.
Robert Stockton Green was appointed to serve as the second Union County Prosecutor on December 12, 1861. Formerly a Princeton City Council representative, Green had moved to Elizabeth in 1856 and became instrumental in promoting the legislation that formed Union County a year later.
Green served until he was elected Union County Surrogate the year after he was named Prosecutor. He later would go on to represent New Jersey as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and also serve as the 27th Governor of New Jersey from 1887 to 1890.
Edward Young Rogers was named the third Union County Prosecutor on February 6, 1862, and the longtime Rahway resident and attorney quickly developed a reputation for impassioned advocacy for upholding the law.
Rogers, also a deeply religious man who co-founded St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Rahway (today known as The Church of the Good Shepherd) served with distinction for four years.
William Jay Magie was appointed to serve as the fourth Union County Prosecutor on April 3, 1866. At the time, and for many decades thereafter, the position of Prosecutor was a part-time role, and Magie that same year formed the law firm Magie & Frost in nearby Somerville. He served with distinction for a single five-year term.
Magie later would go on to be named to the New Jersey Supreme Court bench in 1880 and in 1890 was named New Jersey Chancellor, making him head of the state’s court system.
Julius Augustus Fay, Jr. was commissioned to be the fifth Union County Prosecutor on April 4, 1871. The Civil War veteran previously had served as a private attorney in Elizabeth and, following a foray into politics, served as Inspector General of the state militia.
Fay served as Prosecutor with distinction for two terms and died in September 1891.
William R. Wilson was appointed to serve as the sixth Union County Prosecutor in 1881. His tenure was notable for his campaign against racetrack gambling in the area, with several local bookmakers and others convicted on charges of being the keepers of disorderly houses. The trials gave impetus to the movement that ultimately resulted in the repeal of laws permitting gambling on horseracing in New Jersey.
Wilson also won a landmark appeal of a judgment against the City of Elizabeth approving creditors’ confiscation of city-owned property such as firehouses and public schools due to the city’s default on municipal bonds. He served two five-year terms as Prosecutor and died in 1939 following 64 years of membership with the Union County Bar Association.
Marsh also served in the New Jersey Assembly and the State Senate, serving concurrently as state senator and Union County Prosecutor from 1891 to 1893. In 1896 he became the third consecutive Union County Prosecutor to be reappointed for a second term.
The native of Somerset County, where he maintained an 80-acre farm that had been in his family for five generations, served consecutive five-year terms as Prosecutor. In 1900 he also was elected as the first president of the then-newly formed Gateway Family YMCA chapter (today the YMCA of Eastern Union County).
Charles Addison Swift became the ninth Union County Prosecutor in 1908, having previously served as counsel for the City of Elizabeth, a member of the Elizabeth Board of Education, and a judge in Elizabeth District Court.
Swift served a single term in the Office where his career in public service began, having started as an Assistant Prosecutor under William Wilson in 1882.
In 1917, while still in his first and only term, Stein convened about 20 local businessmen and professionals to a meeting at which the Rotary Club of Elizabeth was established. Following his service as Prosecutor Stein went on to serve as a judge in the state Court of Common Pleas, Chancery Court, and Superior Court.
Walter L. Hetfield, Jr., a native of Plainfield, was sworn in as the 11th Union County Prosecutor on March 11, 1918, marking his return to public service after five years in private practice – from 1908 to 1913, he had served as an Assistant Prosecutor under C. Addison Swift.
Hetfield’s lone five-year term as Prosecutor was marked by the successful prosecution of a Roselle Park political figure who had embezzled $30,000 from the borough, two men responsible for the brutal murder of a Perth Amboy couple in Rahway, and a three-man robbery crew known at the time as the “Trolley Car Bandits.” Hetfield was additionally known as serving as secretary on the first board of directors convened to manage the Plainfield Public Library.
Abe J. David, the 12th and longest-serving Prosecutor in Union County history, was appointed in 1923 and reappointed three times, in 1928, 1933, and 1938. As Prosecutor the Elizabeth native and former District Court judge supported the founding of a permanent grand jurors association, a police academy, and a state institution for sex offenders.
David’s tenure, which spanned three different decades, was marked by the successful prosecution of a Cranford man who killed his wife, the man who fatally shot a Bureau of Prohibition agent during a raid at the Rising Sun Brewery in Elizabeth, and a robbery crew responsible for the holdup of a United States Postal Service mail truck in which a postal worker was shot and killed in downtown Elizabeth. When the man convicted of the latter killing was later found to have been unjustly imprisoned due to a case of mistaken identity, David also was instrumental in securing his release.
John E. Barger was appointed acting Union County Prosecutor in November 1942, shortly after the death of former Prosecutor Abe J. David. Barger, the former magistrate in Clark, previously had served as a four-term mayor of Rahway and as a District Court judge.
Barger’s confirmation as Prosecutor was stalled for more than six months due to a dispute between Democratic Governor Charles Edison and State Sen. Herbert J. Pascoe, a Republican. In July 1943, however, Barger was called into military service, entering the U.S. Army as a captain and later participating in the Battle of Normandy and several subsequent engagements in France, Belgium, and Germany. He returned to his native New Jersey a war hero, having been awarded the Order of Leopold by the King of Belgium for saving 90 civilian lives during the Battle of the Bulge, and subsequently served with distinction as a judge during the 1950s and 1960s.
Francis A. Gordon was appointed acting Union County Prosecutor in July 1943, shortly after the previous acting Prosecutor, John E. Barger, left office to serve in the U.S. Army in the European Theatre of World War II. As was the case with his predecessor, Gordon was never confirmed as Prosecutor due to resistance from State Sen. Herbert J. Pascoe.
Gordon served as acting Prosecutor for approximately six months before being relieved of his responsibilities by New Jersey Attorney General Walter D. Van Riper. He then entered private practice, heading the law firm of Gordon, Mackenzie and Welt in Elizabeth, and upon his death in 1990 the Union County Bar Association passed a resolution hailing him as “perhaps the greatest jury lawyer produced in Union County and among the best in the state.”
Donald H. McLean was appointed as the 13th confirmed Union County Prosecutor in April 1944 and served dual roles until the end of that year, when he finished his sixth term as a member of the New Jersey delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives. The former private attorney, who prepared necessary legal documents when Hillside separated from Union Township to become an independent municipality in 1913, also previously had served as an Assistant Prosecutor under Walter L. Hetfield, Jr. from 1918 through 1923.
McLean served as Prosecutor until 1946, when Governor Walter E. Edge appointed him to the New Jersey Court of Errors and Appeals.
Edward Cohn was named the 14th Union County Prosecutor in 1946 following work in private law practice and a political career that included service as a secretary and legislative clerk for New Jersey State Sen. Herbert J. Pascoe. Cohn also served as First Assistant Prosecutor under Donald H. McLean during his time in office, from 1944 to 1946.
Cohn’s tenure was notable for the establishment of an informal police academy at which municipal detectives and police officers were instructed by members of the Prosecutor’s Office and Union County Sheriff’s Office on proper procedure when preparing a case for trial, taking statements and depositions, and presenting evidence to juries. Following his service as Prosecutor Cohn returned to private law practice in his native Elizabeth.
Russell Morss was appointed as the 15th Union County Prosecutor in 1953 following seven years of service as an Assistant Prosecutor. Like his predecessor, Edward Cohn, Morss also was active in local politics and previously had served as a secretary to State Sen. Herbert J. Pascoe.
As Prosecutor, Morss implemented policies prohibiting prosecutors from choosing which charges to pursue, requiring them to exercise diligence and to avoid overlooking even minor infractions. His tenure also was marked by the Office developing a new technique to aid in the prosecution of publishers of magazines then considered obscene; the technique involved obtaining indictments for conspiracy to violate obscenity laws, something that enabled authorities in New Jersey to reach across state lines to apprehend defendants. Arguably the most notable criminal case of his tenure was a manslaughter prosecution against representatives of a construction company for the deaths of three children in a water-filled excavation site in an area where the New Jersey Turnpike was under construction.
Mr. Stine’s tenure as Prosecutor was marked by the investigation and prosecution of cases regarding narcotics trafficking and welfare, insurance, and election/campaign fraud, but he was arguably best known for his prosecution of the Parks-Maxey double-murder case in 1961. Mr. Stine was also a proponent of passing a state wiretapping bill to cut down on syndicate crime, and he served a term as the president of the County Prosecutors Association of New Jersey.
A graduate of Princeton University and Rutgers Law School, Mr. Stine reached the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves while in office. Immediately before taking office, he served as New Jersey Deputy Attorney General.
After leaving office, Mr. Stine ran his own private practice in Plainfield for 30 years, from 1965 through 1995, at one point ascending to president of the New Jersey Bar Association.
Leo Kaplowitz became the 17th Union County Prosecutor in November 1964, having previously served as an Assistant Prosecutor under H. Douglas Stine and as counsel for Union County. Like his predecessor, Kaplowitz also was a U.S. Army veteran of World War II and a Bronze Star recipient for valor.
Kaplowitz’s tenure was notable for his introducing the concept that every municipality should have a public prosecutor to represent the state at municipal court hearings. Notable cases during Kaplowitz’s single term in office included the prosecution of those responsible for the murder of a police officer during the 1967 Plainfield Riots, investigations into organized crime involvement in union activities in the area, and extensive prosecutions of gambling and narcotics offenses.
The Prosecutor’s Office Law Library was posthumously named after Kaplowitz following his death in 1994, with then-Prosecutor Andrew K. Ruotolo crediting him for having “brought this office into modern times.”
Karl Asch was sworn into office as the 18th Union County Prosecutor in 1970, the same year Gov. William T. Cahill signed into law legislation creating sweeping changes to the ways law enforcement was structured statewide, including the changing of the County Prosecutor title from a part-time position to a full-time position.
As a result of those changes, during Asch’s tenure the Office’s staff and annual budget both tripled in size. A newly formed Municipal Corruption Unit opened investigations into the activities of several local public officials, including Union County Democratic Chairman James J. Kenneally, who was indicted on 16 counts of conspiracy to cheat the Rahway Water Department through kickbacks on vouchers. Asch also established the first county Narcotics Strike Force east of the Mississippi River, creating a model that would be duplicated in many other New Jersey counties, and opened the state’s first county-run forensics laboratory. Following the completion of a single term Asch formed a new private law firm through which he gained notoriety and experience as a trial attorney.
Edward McGrath was nominated to become the 19th Union County Prosecutor in April 1975. Upon acceptance of the nomination, McGrath, then a Superior Court judge, made it clear that he did not intend to serve a full five-year term but instead aimed to organize the fiscal affairs of the Prosecutor’s Office, to cut unnecessary costs, and to return to more traditional prosecutorial methods.
McGrath followed through on those plans, phasing out the Municipal Corruption Unit and replacing it with a restructured alternative. He also ordered all assistant prosecutors in the office to turn in their service weapons, which previously had given them full police powers, and reduced the Prosecutor’s Office complement of assistant prosecutors from 42 to 34. McGrath was appointed back to the Superior Court bench in October 1976, after which First Assistant Prosecutor Michael Evans served as Acting Prosecutor for a brief time before John H. Stamler took office the next year.
John H. Stamler was sworn in as the 20th Union County Prosecutor in 1977, having previously worked as an Assistant Prosecutor from 1967 through 1975 before leaving to join a Fanwood-based private law practice for two years. One of his top priorities from the beginning of his tenure was emphasizing the need to maintain strong ties between the various municipal police departments and the Prosecutor’s Office, and to use those relationships to develop and manage comprehensive investigations into narcotics and organized crime operations.
Stamler, who twice was reappointed to new five-year terms, also made it a priority to crack down on offenders victimizing children or the elderly, vowing that Assistant Prosecutors would not engage in plea bargaining with defendants accused of such crimes. He also fortified the Prosecutor’s Office’s investigative and prosecutorial staffs to combat a rise in sex crimes and urged local businesses to join forces with the Union County Crime Stoppers, a newly established organization dedicated to rewarding tipsters offering information leading to arrests and indictments for serious crimes. One of the most notable prosecutions of Stamler’s tenure was that of a Roselle police officer who ultimately was convicted of the fatal poisoning of his wife.
The Union County Police Academy was renamed after Stamler following his 1990 death in office at the age of 51.
Andrew K. Ruotolo, Jr. became the 21st Union County Prosecutor in 1991, having previously served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Newark and having worked as a partner in his own Mountainside-based law firm.
In his single term Ruotolo notably established the joint Essex/Union County Auto Theft Task Force, which required municipalities in both counties to commit personnel and resources to address a crime that had surged in frequency during the previous several years. He also launched the Prosecutor’s Office Domestic Violence Unit, established a youth academy to address the needs of first-time juvenile offenders, and created the Union County Child Advocacy Center, which since has become a national model for the care and support of underage victims of physical or sexual abuse.
Ruotolo died in office in September 1995 at the age of 42.
Thomas Manahan was sworn into office as the 22nd Union County Prosecutor on July 2, 1997, returning to the place where he started his career as an Assistant Prosecutor serving as deputy supervisor of the Major Crimes Unit and supervisor of the Special Enforcement Unit.
Manahan previously had left the Prosecutor’s Office to become staff counsel for the Chubb Group Insurance Company in New Providence and entered private practice as a partner in his own Mountainside-based law firm before returning to public service. As Prosecutor, he followed through on vows that combating drug crimes and continuing the quality-of-life initiatives launched by his predecessors, John H. Stamler and Andrew K. Ruotolo, would be some of his top priorities.
During Manahan’s term of service, the Prosecutor’s Office launched its High Tech Crime Unit to detect and prosecute crimes committed using electronic means, marking the creation of the first such department in a county prosecutor’s office in New Jersey. Manahan also launched the S.A.L.T. (Save A Life Today) Program, a community crime prevention initiative created to serve the needs of at-risk youths in Union County.
Additionally, Manahan directed the Prosecutor’s Office to create what became a nationally recognized countywide data collection policy to address concerns of profiling and mandated ethics training for all law-enforcement officers serving in Union County. He also championed the cause of drug crime prevention by expanding the Office’s Narcotics Strike Force and hosted numerous forums to educate members of the public about the crime of identity theft.
Today Manahan serves as a New Jersey Superior Court judge, sitting in the Appellate Division.
Romankow’s 11-year tenure as Prosecutor was marked by the establishment of the Union County Homicide Task Force and the Guns, Gangs, Drugs, and Violent Crimes Task Force, two entities that were created to manage comprehensive investigations into murders and other major crimes countywide. At Romankow’s direction, the Office also during his tenure became one of the first in New Jersey to utilize the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute against drug dealers in their capacities as members of a gang organization.
A longtime champion of mental health awareness, Romankow also founded the Office’s Special Offenders Unit, a highly specialized department that manages a diversionary program intended to get nonviolent offenders suffering from mental illness needed treatment and services. Working closely with the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders, the Union County Improvement Authority, and the New Jersey Department of Children and Families, Romankow also was the driving force behind the construction of the state-of-the-art, 11,000 square-foot Union County Child Advocacy Center, which was dedicated in October 2012. The Center houses two dozen full-time staff members and employs an advanced “wraparound” service model that today brings together child abuse services from multiple locations to a single location, truncating investigation and treatment from services from a number of days to hours.
Notable prosecutions during Romankow’s tenure included the dismantling of several high-level narcotics trafficking rings in Elizabeth and Plainfield and the convictions of dozens of murder suspects. Today former Prosecutor Romankow works in private practice in Springfield.
Grace H. Park was sworn in as Acting Prosecutor of Union County on June 17, 2013. She is the first Asian-American county prosecutor in New Jersey history, and also the first female and the first minority to serve as prosecutor in Union County’s 157-year history.
During her first year of service Park introduced a broad-based initiative to get the Prosecutor’s Office more closely involved in investigations into nonfatal shootings countywide, implemented a complete revamp of the office’s Domestic Violence Unit, and launched several new community outreach initiatives. In addition to numerous public forums highlighting the dangers of heroin and prescription opioid abuse, these initiatives also include an annually held Forum for School Administrators and a domestic violence awareness symposium organized in tandem with YWCA Union County.
Prior to her appointment as Acting Prosecutor, Ms. Park had spent seven years as a federal prosecutor with the US Attorney’s Office prosecuting cases involving terrorism, narcotics, violent crime, health care and government fraud, and economic crimes. Her prior prosecutions include complex investigations of public and private companies as well as of individual defendants.
Most recently, Ms. Park managed civil litigations for the pharmaceutical manufacturer Pfizer Inc. as Senior Corporate Counsel. In addition, Ms. Park was a litigation associate at Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLC in New York City. She also clerked for the Senior United States District Judge William H. Walls, in Newark, New Jersey.
Thomas K. Isenhour was sworn in as Acting Prosecutor of Union County on September 13, 2017. As the chief law enforcement officer in Union County, Mr. Isenhour oversees an office of 250 employees and an approximately $23.5 million budget, coordinating the law enforcement efforts of approximately 1,600 police officers in 21 local police departments, the Union County Sheriff’s Office, and the Union County Police Department.
A career prosecutor, having joined the Union County Prosecutor’s Office in 1984, Mr. Isenhour previously served as First Assistant Prosecutor under former acting Union County Prosecutor Grace H. Park. Prior to this, Mr. Isenhour supervised many of the Office’s most high-profile investigative teams, including the Child Abuse Unit, Special Prosecutions Unit, and the Guns, Gangs, Drugs, and Violent Crimes Task Force.
As First Assistant, Mr. Isenhour was responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Prosecutor’s Office, including managing its finances and supervising its staff. He also advised the County Prosecutor on high-profile cases, initiatives, and personnel matters.
Mr. Isenhour’s responsibilities as First Assistant further included drafting Office policies, protocols, and directives; recruiting and hiring staff; overseeing internal affairs and personnel matters; supervising the John H. Stamler Police Academy in Scotch Plains and the Prosecutor’s Office’s Forensics Laboratory in Westfield; and helping implement key initiatives such as the implementation of bail reform, the launch of the Prosecutor’s Office’s Body-Worn Camera Initiative, and the founding of the Union County Family Justice Center.
Several cases of note Mr. Isenhour has managed during his more than 30 years of service to the Prosecutor’s Office include the investigation and prosecution of a dozen Union County corrections officers for assaulting numerous detainees; attaining convictions of the four leading members of the notorious Fitzgerald narcotics organization, one of the largest of its kind in the state, which was responsible for distributing approximately 4,500 folds of heroin and 1,500 vials of cocaine per day from its primary retail location in Elizabeth; and the investigation and prosecution for manslaughter of the owner of the El Balcon nightclub in Elizabeth after four young victims, ages 13 to 21, were trampled to death in a stampede following a brawl there.
Mr. Isenhour is a graduate of George Washington University’s National Law Center, and he earned his Juris Doctor and bachelor’s degree in history and psychology from the University of Denver.