Justin Braz, Gov. Phil Murphy’s deputy chief of staff for legislative affairs, was the first of five witnesses to testify before the Select Committee on Oversight.
Braz, a close friend of New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency chief of staff Katie Brennan., who has accused former Schools Development Authority chief of staff Al Alvarez of sexually assaulting her, testified that aside from being among the first to learn about Brennan’s alleged assault, he played little part in the administration’s handling of the matter.
Brennan told him about the assault on April 9, 2017, the day after it occurred. Brennan and Alvarez were both part of Murphy’s gubernatorial campaign, said Braz, who was chief of staff for Assemblyman Gary Schaer at the time.
At Brennan’s request, Braz said he informed Murphy transition counsel Raj Parikh and, upon Parikh’s advice, Pete Cammarano, Murphy’s outgoing chief of staff who was then Braz’s direct superior, of the assault.
Brennan did not request that Braz contact those two specifically but asked that he inform someone on the transition team about her allegations against Alvarez because, at the time, she believed charges related to the incident were likely to be filed against Alvarez soon.
The two inquired after Brennan’s identity, but Braz did not share that information in accordance with her wishes.
The Hudson County Prosecutor eventually chose not to pursue such charges, and Braz provided an update saying as much to Cammarano and Parikh.
Braz said he played no other part in the administration’s process, and he was unsure what that process entailed, or if it even existed.
Braz said he was not present at any meetings where Brennan’s assault was discussed, despite interacting with Cammarano on a daily basis since Murphy assumed office.
He also said he had no expectations about what the two would do after being told about the assault, but thought that they would at least “look into the situation.” He never followed up there, he said, because they Cammarano and Parikh told him they would handle it and he believed them.
Brennan testified on Dec. 4 that she told Braz of the assault the day after it occurred.
Several other members of Murphy’s administration are expected to testify on Tuesday. Among them are Cammarano, deputy chief counsel Parimal Garg and chief ethics counsel Heather Taylor.
Murphy Chief Counsel Matt Platkin, with whom Braz said he discussed Brennan’s allegations following an inquiry about the incident from the Wall Street Journal, was set to testify on Tuesday but had to reschedule because of a conflict.
The same is true of New Jersey Schools Development Authority executive director Lizette Delgado-Polanco.