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Acting New Jersey Attorney General Andrew Bruck with Gov. Phil Murphy in July 2021. (Photo: Office of the Governor).

Murphy still mulling attorney general nominee after considering 8 candidates

Bruck remains on contention; ex-chief counsel, current and former prosecutors were in the mix

By David Wildstein, January 12 2022 2:21 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy is still considering potential candidates to serve as New Jersey Attorney General during his second term after a process where eight contenders have been vetted for the post, the New Jersey Globe has learned.

But administration sources have said that Murphy has not made a final decision on the attorney general post and no offers have been made.

Andrew J. Bruck, who has served as acting attorney general since Gurbir Grewal resigned in July, remains in contention for a four-year term.

Also under consideration: former acting U.S. Attorney Rachael Honig; Assemblyman John F. McKeon (D-West Orange); former Murphy chief counsel Matt Platkin; Assistant U.S. Attorney Jamel Semper; former First Assistant Attorney General Ricardo Solano;  Passaic County Prosecutor Camelia Valdes; and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Lee Vartan.

Many of these names were first listed as potential candidates by the New Jersey Globe last summer.

The 38-year-old Bruck had served in the attorney general’s office for 3 ½ years under Grewal, and was serving as First Assistant Attorney General,  before being elevated to the post on an acting basis.  He had previously spent five years at the U.S. Department of Justice.  He is the first openly gay attorney general.

Honig was acting U.S. Attorney for nearly one year and has now returned to her post as the number two person in the federal prosecutor’s office.  She’s spent most of the last 16 years in the U.S. Attorney’s office.

McKeon was sworn in on Tuesday to his 11th term in the State Assembly.  A former mayor of West Orange, he is the longtime chairman of the Assembly Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee.

Platkin joined Murphy’s staff as chief counsel to the Governor in 2018 after playing a key policy role on the 2017 gubernatorial campaign.  He is a partner at Lowenstein Sandler.

Semper is currently the chief of the Organized Crime and Gangs section in the U.S. Attorney’s office.  He joined the federal prosecutor’s office in 2018 after spending ten years as an assistant prosecutor in Essex and Union counties.  He ran the Special Prosecutions Unit in Essex from 2013 to 2018.

Solano served as First Assistant state Attorney General from 2008 to 2010 and as an assistant U.S. Attorney from 2001 to 2007.  He is a partner at Friedman Kaplan Seiler & Adelman.

Valdes became the first Latina prosecutor in the state when Corzine nominated her in 2009.  She served as a deputy attorney general, assistant U.S. Attorney and assistant counsel to Govs.  Christine Todd Whitman and Donald DiFrancesco.  Murphy renominated her for a third term as prosecutor last year, but the Senate did not confirm her.

Vartan, the son of former Kearny Mayor Leo Vartan, was an assistant U.S. Attorney from 2007 to 2011 and an assistant counsel to Gov. Chris Christie from 2011 to 2012.  He was later the chief of staff the New Jersey Attorney General and the Executive Assistant Attorney General.  Vartan is now a partner at Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi, the firm of former U.S. Senator and Attorney General Jeff Chiesa.

Semper, Solano and Vartan were among those under consideration to become U.S. Attorney, a post that went to Philip Sellinger.

The State Constitution gives two cabinet members, the Secretary of State and the Attorney General, four-year terms that run concurrently with the governor.  Murphy announced his intention to nominate Tahesha Way for a second term on Tuesday, but not an attorney general.

Murphy is six days away from his inauguration to a second term, after becoming the first Democratic governor to win re-election in 44 years.

With Murphy potentially on the verge of announcing his choice, a rival faction of the Democratic Party has sought to influence the process in discussions with other news organizations, the New Jersey Globe has learned.

The path to Senate confirmation for an attorney general candidate changed on November 2 when Senate President Steve Sweeney lost his bid for re-election to the seat, he’d held for 20 years.  The new Senate President, Nicholas Scutari, has different relationships.

There is no steadfast rule for how governors handle the nomination of an attorney general in their second terms.

Gov. Chris Christie nominated his chief of staff, Kevin O’Dowd, as attorney general between Election Day and his inauguration, but O’Dowd was never confirmed by the Senate.  Peter Verniero remained as attorney general until Gov. Christine Todd Whitman nominated him to the Supreme Court.  After Gov. Thomas Kean was re-elected in 1985, Attorney General Irwin Kimmelman announced his intention to return to his law firm; Kean named his chief counsel, Cary Edward, to the post.

Bruck could continue as acting attorney general after the start of Murphy’s term.

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