Home>Feature>McDonnell taking top post in attorney general’s office; Berns will move to governor’s staff

Kate McDonnell. left (Photo: Office of the Governor), and Matthew Berns (Photo: Office of the Attorney General).

McDonnell taking top post in attorney general’s office; Berns will move to governor’s staff

By David Wildstein, October 17 2022 12:30 pm

Two of the state’s top lawyers are switching jobs.

Kate McDonnell, the senior deputy chief counsel to Gov. Phil Murphy for nearly five years, will become the counsel to Attorney General Matt Platkin.  Platkin’s current counsel, Matthew Berns, is joining the governor’s office as deputy chief counsel.

The move reunites McDonnell with Platkin, who hired her as one of two deputies – along with Parimal Garg – after Murphy won the 2017 gubernatorial election.

“Kate McDonnell exemplifies the very best of public service,” said Garg, who succeeded Platkin as chief counsel in 2020.  “After over a decade in the Legislature, she has advised Governor Murphy on every piece of legislation since day one of his administration.  Every single law that the Governor has signed is at least a little — and in many cases a lot — better, more workable, and more technically sound because of her tireless and dedicated efforts.

Platkin offered string praise for Berns and Platkin.

“Matt Berns is everything anyone could want in a lawyer – smart, shrewd, and someone with an uncanny ability to see around corners.  He has been an integral member of my executive team, and while I will miss him here, our loss is the Governor’s Office gain as he takes on his new role in Counsel’s Office,” Platkin stated.  “As Matt departs, I am thrilled that Kate McDonnell will be joining our office and serve as my Chief Counsel.  Kate is an incredibly sharp and creative attorney, and knows how to get big projects done. I have had the pleasure of working with her before, and could not be happier to do so again. We are fortunate in New Jersey to have two talented lawyers in Matt and Kate who have made public service their priority.”

McDonnell served as general counsel to the Assembly Majority Office, working for Speakers Joe Roberts, Sheila Oliver and Vincent Prieto.  The daughter of Camden County Commissioner Edward McDonnell, she was part of a dream team staff assembled for Roberts by then-Assembly Majority Executive Director Bill Castner.

She joined the Assembly in 2006 after serving as a summer law clerk at Cozen O’Connor and the U.S. Attorney’s Office and a fellowship with Assembly Democratic staff.  She was the staffer assigned to the Assembly Judiciary Committee and became Chief Counsel in 2009.

“In addition to being a brilliant attorney, Kate is an extraordinary person, colleague, and friend,” Garg said. “We could not be more grateful for her service and look forward to continuing to work closely with her as she begins a new chapter at the Attorney General’s Office.”

Berns worked for the U.S. Department of Justice before joining the attorney general’s office in 2018.  He clerked for a U.S. Court of Appeals Judge for the D.C. Circuit and was editor-in-chief of the Georgetown Law Journal.

This story was updated at 3:28 PM with comment from Platkin.  

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