The New Jersey State Commission of Investigation (SCI) has a party scheduled tonight to celebrate their 50th anniversary, but some believe it should be a memorial service instead.
There was a time when the SCI had real teeth, back in the day when a visit from an investigator or a subpoena to appear could reliably cause severe sphincter tightening.
The Legislature created the SCI in 1968 as part of a package of crime fighting bills pushed through by Gov. Richard Hughes after allegations that a North Jersey assemblyman worked to cancel a Senate hearing on organized crime at the request of reputed mob boss Jerry Catena.
Not long after that, an assistant state attorney general, in a speech to a state journalistic society, said that three incumbent legislators were “entirely too comfortable with organized crime.” He later upped the number to six.
The new SCI was created with enormous investigatory power, largely to keep the Legislature out of the organized crime investigation business. The commission had the authority to authorize wiretaps, to compel top mob bosses to testify, and even to temporarily jail those who refused to appear before them. They would refer their findings to law enforcement and acted independently of politics.
While the SCI has broad jurisdiction, these days they deal in issues that are smaller in scope to the ones that dominated their original mission.
These days the SCI is headed by Joseph Scancarella, a retired Superior Court judge who as a freshman Republican assemblyman – he was not one of the legislators under any cloud – voted to create the commission in 1968.
Almost as a metaphor for the changes in the once powerful commission, six months after Gov. Chris Christie named him to the post, Scancarella contacted the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in search of a job for a family member.