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Assemblyman Christopher DePhillips (R-Wyckoff). Photo by Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe.

DePhillips bill would strip Verniero firm of state work

Measure would bar firms with state contracts from being hired to investigate Murphy

By Nikita Biryukov, January 17 2019 2:22 pm

Assemblyman Chris DePhillips on Thursday introduced a bill that would bar firms with state contracts or that made contributions to the governor from investigating any matter related to the state’s top executive or his office.

“This is a simple, good government bill that we can all agree on. It prevents conflicts of interest or the appearances of conflicts by keeping investigations free of undue influence resulting from contractual agreements or political contributions,” DePhillips said. “This legislation is needed to ensure the integrity of investigations by removing any taint that would be associated with the recommendations of the investigator,”

Sills Cummis & Gross — the law firm that employs former State Supreme Court Justice Peter Verniero, whom Gov. Phil Murphy has hired to conduct an independent investigation into the hiring of former Schools Development Authority chief of staff Al Alvarez — holds state contracts and donated to Murphy’s campaign.

In October, the New Jersey Globe first reported DePhillips was researching such a bill. At the time, he said Verniero’s firm should lose state work to avoid conflicts of interest, in appearance and actuality.

“You would think that the administration would not want to have these questions associated with the person who is handling the investigation,” the freshman assemblyman said in October. “There are already questions about whether he (Verniero) is the right person and he hasn’t even started work yet.”

Alvarez resigned from his post at the SDA after a reporter from the Wall Street Journal reached out seeking comment on sexual assault allegations made against him by state Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency chief of staff Katie Brennan.

Brennan claims Alvarez raped her in April 2017, when they were both part of Murphy’s gubernatorial campaign.

Those allegations and Alvarez’s hiring are the subject of numerous probes, including ones conducted by a legislative select committee, Verniero and the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s office.

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