Gov. Phil Murphy today named Peter Verniero, who left his seat on the New Jersey Supreme Court fifteen years ago amidst calls for his impeachment, to head an independent investigation of the hiring of Albert Alvarez, a former campaign staffer and administration official who has been accused of sexual assault.
In the 1990’s, Verniero became entangled in a scandal involving allegations that the New Jersey State Police systematically stopped and searched Black drivers on the New Jersey Turnpike. As state attorney general, the State Police Superintendent reported to him.
During his Senate confirmation hearings for a seat on the top court in 1999, Verniero faced fierce questioning over his role in racial profiling. Every Democrat in the Republican-controlled State Senate voted against his confirmation.
In 2001, the Senate Judiciary Committee launched an investigation into racial profiling. Verniero spent more than a dozen hours testifying. Several Senators accused him of misleading the committee during his own confirmation hearing. Acting Gov. Donald DiFrancesco, a Republican, called for his resignation. The State Senate called for his impeachment. The Assembly Speaker, Jack Collins, declined to initiate impeachment proceedings, suggesting that the Senate had the option of asking the Mercer County Prosecutor to look at potential perjury charges.
During the gubernatorial campaign that year, Democrat James E. McGreevey said he would not reappoint Verniero for a tenured term on the Supreme Court if he won. He lost the support of many Republicans in 2002 after Bob Torricelli withdrew from the U.S. Senate race after the deadline to replace candidates on the ballot had passed. Verniero supported a move to switch Torricelli for Frank Lautenberg, something that may have cost Republicans a seat in the United States Senate.
Verniero saw the handwriting on the all and resigned in 2003.
The former justice also has ties to Murphy.
Verniero is currently at partner at Sills Cummis & Gross, a North Jersey law firm that contributed $100,000 to the Democratic Governors Association during Murphy’s 2017 campaign. Some of Verniero’s law partners were major Murphy for Governor fundraisers – one of whom now heads the Gateway tunnel project – and the firm has at least once public contract at an agency where Murphy has veto power over their minutes.
Before becoming Gov. Christine Todd Whitman’s chief counsel and later chief of staff, Verniero was the executive director of the New Jersey Republican State Committee from 1989 to 1990, when Kathleen Donovan was state chair.