The historical roots of the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office are intimately tied to the history of the County as a unit of government. Monmouth County was one of the original four counties which comprised New Jersey in 1682; the first courts were established in 1683.
The first official position equivalent to the modern day County Prosecutor was “Chief Magistrate of the Court,” held by Lewis Morris of Shrewsbury. Morris was appointed by the English Crown and controlled both the court and prosecution positions until after the Revolutionary War. The first grand jury in the County was convened in 1687 and the first recorded indictment accused sixteen people of horse racing and playing nine pins on Sunday. The defendants were all found guilty.
During the 1700s there were very few lawyers. Most people went to court unrepresented and were subject only to the judge and jury. Prosecuting officers were employees of the court whose primary duties were to draft indictments and send them to the grand jury.
The position of Prosecutor of the Pleas was established in 1822 when the 47th General Assembly of the State of New Jersey passed “An Act Respecting Deputies to the Attorney General”. Each county had a Prosecutor of the Pleas appointed by the Court of Quarter Sessions once every five years. In 1823 Monmouth County’s fourth lawyer, Corlies Lloyd, became the first Prosecutor. During the administration of Peter Vredenburgh, the third Prosecutor, the Governor of the State of New Jersey was designated to appoint the Prosecutor of the Pleas rather than the Court of Quarter Sessions.
The title “Prosecutor of the Pleas” remained the same until 1948 when a statutory change (N.J.S.A. 2A:158-2) dictated that, “In any statute in which the designation Prosecutor of the Pleas is used, it shall be continued to mean the County Prosecutor.”
During the nineteenth century the Prosecutor of the Pleas handled prosecutions ranging in severity from the theft of corn and illegal liquor sales to murder and robbery. By the middle of the twentieth century, increasing emphasis was placed upon the morality crimes of gambling and prostitution. In the mid-1900s legislative changes to the criminal laws reclassified many criminal offenses. This generally left the more serious crimes for the attention of the County Prosecutor and the lesser crimes to the municipal courts.
List of Monmouth County Prosecutors. (List compiled by George Joynson.)