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heyburn outside courthouseTRENTON >> Speech isn’t free in the capital city.

Ed “NJ Weedman” Forchion and his attorney said prosecutors have made that clear after they extended an offer Monday to the marijuana activist for alleged online harassment of a city cop.

“I don’t think the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office cares about the Constitution,” Edward Heyburn, Forchion’s attorney, told The Trentonian after his client’s court appearance.

He and his client have apparently patched up their relationship after the brash defense attorney temporarily quit because his out-of-control client kept putting his foot in his mouth.

Forchion was arraigned, and pleaded not guilty, to a charge of cyber-bullying, which carries up to 18 months in prison if he’s convicted.“They have turned the criminal justice system in Mercer County into a circus,” Heyburn said. “[Prosecutor Angelo] Onofri has a complete and utter lack of respect of people’s civil liberties and has manipulated the grand jury to get indictments in cases where his office is ultimately going to lose.”

He was indicted by a grand jury this year for calling Trenton Police officer Herbert Flowers a pedophile.

The confrontation, captured on video and later posted online, happened outside of Forchion’s East State Street business, while he held up a “We R Open. F--- the Police” sign, encouraging residents to patronize the raided eatery.

Free-speech advocates slammed prosecutor Onofri’s office for indicting the case, saying Forchion’s dig at Flowers is protected speech and the charge is unconstitutional. Unabashed of public criticism, Onofri’s office has maintained a firm no-comment policy on Heyburn’s allegations.

On Monday, Assistant Prosecutor James Scott extended a 1-year plea offer to the outspoken activist and 12th district congressional candidate.

Forchion slammed the offer as a “joke,” promising to fight the charge at trial. He also faces charges in a separate drug case from when his restaurant, smoke shop and pot temple were raided earlier this year by Trenton Police.

He was hit with several drug charges and has been offered a plea deal that would send him to prison for seven years if he accepts.

The cyber-bullying offer would run concurrently to any time in the drug case.

Heyburn renewed calls for Onofri, who was nominated in October by the governor for a full term, to step down as the county’s chief law enforcement officer.

The issue could come up when Onofri faces the Senate, which must confirm his appointment.

Charging that the capital city resembles a fictional New Jersey town overrun by corrupt cops, Heyburn said the prosecutor is in bed with city police director Ernest Parrey Jr.

He pointed to a letter written to Gov. Chris Christie in which Parrey endorsed Onofri as prosecutor.

Legal experts said the letter raised questions about the prosecutor’s impartiality and ability to prosecute criminal cases that may involve Trenton cops.

“They’re completely unfocused under Onofri’s leadership,” Heyburn said. “And [the prosecutor’s] connection with Trenton Police has shown he is OK backing up the illegal conduct that has turned Trenton a version of ‘Cop Land.’”

Heyburn said prosecutors are trying to extend the scope of the cyber-bullying law, which was put on the books to protect vulnerable children and others amid high-profile suicides sparked by online harassment.

While free-speech advocates have said the law is too broad and impinges on free speech, supporters have noted certain speech isn’t protected, particularly if it poses an imminent threat.

But Forchion said the intent of the law isn’t to protect a “280-pound police officer with a gun.”

Heyburn, too, has said if his client’s charge is allowed to stand it could embolden prosecutors across New Jersey to pursue charges when people criticize public officials.

“I think Onofri is making more of a mockery of his office than he already has,” the defense attorney said. “They think by being tough on a pro-marijuana activist, it’s going to make Trenton safer. If this was Mayberry and this was their biggest problem, maybe I’d understand it.”

 

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