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Jerry Zaro

Zaro unhappy with Murphy over secondary legal role

Respected mega lawyer doesn’t want to play second fiddle to DeCotiis

By David Wildstein, June 28 2018 12:09 pm

There’s some trouble brewing between Gov. Phil Murphy and Jerry Zaro, his appointee to the Gateway Program Development Corporation.

Zaro wanted his law firm, Sills Cummis & Gross, to become general counsel to the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, and source say that he was led to believe that appointment was forthcoming. But recently the authority picked the DeCotiis, Fitzpatrick & Cole law firm as general counsel, and as if it were a consolation prize, named Zaro’s firm as the co-general counsel.

No thanks, Zaro said.

He’s not interested in playing second chair to the DeCotii.

The man of tremendous gravitas who has served as an advisor to the last eight governors is now extraordinarily pissed at Murphy, whose campaign he supported and fundraised for.  Now Murphy has someone he’s offended as New Jersey’s point man on the Gateway tunnel project.

Worse for the governor is that it sends a bad signal to Democrats, especially in the middle of a budget crisis.  Zaro was an early and ardent supporter of Murphy, signing on before Steve Fulop and Steve Sweeney got out of the race. The DeCotii were working hard for Fulop, even going as far as setting up a non-profit group to boost the Jersey City mayor’s statewide ambitions.

In March, the Murphy administration fired most of the authority’s legal department, including general counsel Bruce Harris and five staff attorneys.  Harris was sent to the authority after the New Jersey Senate rejected Gov. Chris Christie’s nomination of him to the New Jersey Supreme Court.

Commissioner of Transportation Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, who was the executive director from 2008 to 2010 and now chairs the authority, is reportedly the one who pushed for the DeCotiis firm.  She tried to move most of the authority’s legal work there in March, but Murphy called her off.  Now it looks as though she’s won.

The Noah’s Ark system of creating dual roles rather than just picking someone might be Murphy’s style – perhaps that comes from the Goldman Sachs mentality of creating co-chairmanships rather than have the partners pick someone from one camp.

At the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, Murphy gave the $280,000-a-year CEO job to former Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, but kept Christie’s guy, Wayne Hasenbalg, on to keep doing most of the work.  At the North Jersey District Water Supply Commission, he kept Christie appointee Todd Caliguire, a former Bergen freeholder who lost races for governor, Bergen County Executive and State Senator (twice), and created a new deputy executive director post for then-Assemblyman Tim Eustace.

Zaro did not immediately return as 10:17 AM call seeking comment.

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