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A lawyer fired from former New Jersey Gov. Donald DiFrancesco's firm alleged in a whistle-blower and sexual harassment complaint Wednesday that she was dismissed for filing an ethics grievance against a judge who was a pal of the partners. And the suit by Michele D'Onofrio says a comment by DiFrancesco about her breasts -- he denies he said it -- was part of the harassment. The suit, filed in Essex County, says D'Onofrio, a matrimonial lawyer, was dismissed on Sept. 21 as a nonequity partner from 39-lawyer DiFrancesco, Bateman, Coley, Yospin, Kunzman, Davis & Lehrer because she filed an ethics grievance against Richard Sasso, the municipal judge in Warren Township, where D'Onofrio serves as prosecutor.

She says her complaints to ethics authorities about Sasso's allegedly unjust behavior and her cooperation in an FBI inquiry about Sasso's handling of a case caused a backlash among her superiors because the judge was a "political ally, friend and crony" of the firm.

As for sexual harassment, the suit says D'Onofrio and other women complained about unwelcome sexual comments and touching by DiFrancesco, but no corrective action was taken.

D'Onofrio recently underwent reconstructive surgery after a diagnosis of breast cancer in 2006. Before the surgery, DiFrancesco "asked her if she was planning on ‘getting really big boobs,'" the suit says.

In a telephone interview after the suit was filed, DiFrancesco said of that allegation, "It's absolutely not true. I can't recall saying those things and I know I would not have said things in those ways."

As for the rest of the personal charges against him, "a couple of things were fabricated," he says.

"It's not something I like to read, and I'm very unhappy about it and I'm very angry about it," says DiFrancesco, who was acting governor in 2001 at the end of a 25-year career in the state Legislature.

The suit names the firm, not individual partners, one of whom is Assemblyman Christopher Bateman, R-Somerset.

According to the complaint, DiFrancesco once asked D'Onofrio if she planned to wear a bathing suit to a professional function. In 2002, he asked her to stay a night in his hotel suite in Atlantic City after a League of Municipalities meeting and then go to a Beach Boys concert with him.


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