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Gov. Phil Murphy. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Murphy declines to say if Hicks testimony affects commissioner’s future in state government

Governor demurs when asked if corrections ombudsman did his job

By Nikita Biryukov, April 12 2021 3:14 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy declined to say whether Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks’ testimony before an Assembly panel last week affected the governor’s view of his future with the administration.

“I’ve got no comment on the personnel matter or the individual leaving or any new news on commissioner Hicks,” he said.

Hicks, Corrections Ombudsman Dan DiBenedetti and others testified on abuses at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility before a joint hearing of the Assembly Judiciary and Women and Children Committees Thursday.

DiBenedetti on Friday announced he would resign from his post on August 1 after a series of tense exchanges with lawmakers over his office’s lax oversight of the state’s only women’s prison.

He told the panel he believed conditions at the facility “weren’t unacceptable” before news broke about a series of inmate beatings that occurred there on Jan. 11 and Jan. 12. Just months earlier Edna Mahan had reached a tentative settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice over sexual assaults at the facility.

Asked directly, the governor did not say whether he believed the ombudsman’s office had done its job over the last year.

Hicks’ testimony came as the commissioner faced calls for his resignation from almost every member of the State Senate and a sizeable portion of the Assembly.

The governor has so far stood by the embattled commissioner, deferring any personnel action until the results of an independent probe led by former State Comptroller Matt Boxer were released.

That probe has run into a roadblock — Attorney General Gurbir Grewal’s criminal investigation into the Jan. 11 and 12 beatings. That investigation has already seen charges against eight Edna Mahan officers, including three supervisors. It remains ongoing.

Murphy did say, however, that a replacement for DiBenedetti could emerge sooner rather than later.

“That’s a position we take seriously and I would suspect — we had a conversation this morning — that the folks who are responsible for filling that position will be doing so expeditiously,” he said.

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