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New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe)

Senate approves 3-year cooling off period for prosecutors to seek public office

Bill doesn’t apply to federal prosecutors

By David Wildstein and Nikita Biryukov, February 22 2021 10:47 am

If Gurbir Grewal wants to run for governor in 2025, he’ll need to leave his post as New Jersey attorney general soon.

The New Jersey Senate today approved legislation that would bar prosecutors and the state attorney general from seeking or holding elected office for three years after they leave their position

The measure, sponsored by former Gov. Richard Codey (D-Roseland) and State Sen. Nicholas Sacco (D-North Bergen), also bars such officials from seeking elected office while they hold their positions.

The bill would prevent Grewal and First Assistant Attorney General Andrew Bruck from wading into electoral politics.

“Anybody who knows anything about criminal law knows that prosecutors have enormous power over deciding what cases their offices pursue. As Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Puccio of the Eastern District of NY is quoted with saying, ‘I could indict a ham sandwich,’” said Codey. “We need to know that a prosecutor is doing what is best for the people of our state. We should be sure that she or he isn’t making decisions based on what might help them in their future endeavors. This legislation will help to make sure that prosecutors are making choices based on the interest of the public and not their political careers.”

Sacco called the “abuse of prosecutorial powers is one of the biggest threats to our democratic society, because when the power of law enforcement is used to settle political scores or push political agendas it undermines faith in the system of laws that our society is built on.

“Unfortunately, we have seen this happen time and time again, both here in our state and in other countries where the separation of law enforcement and politics has broken down,” Sacco stated. “This legislation will put a safeguard on any abuse of prosecutorial power for political gain by preventing the people we entrust to prosecute crimes from using that career as a springboard to political office.”

The bill wouldn’t have stopped former Gov. Chris Christie from running his 2009 gubernatorial campaign.

The measure doesn’t impose any limits on the political ambitions of federal prosecutors. Christie, a former U.S. attorney, launched his gubernatorial campaign a little more than a month after giving up his prosecutorial post.

““Anyone who doesn’t believe that in our recent history public officials in positions of trust have investigated or indicted people because of the benefit if might give them politically in the future needs to look again,” said Codey. “If you don’t think this happens, you probably still accept that Chris Christie didn’t know anything about Bridgegate.”

This story was updated at 4:29 PM with comment from Codey and Sacco.

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