Assembly Democrats are fielding their own resolution calling for the resignation of Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks, following a similar measure the Senate cleared in a bipartisan vote last month.
The measure, sponsored by Assemblywomen Carol Murphy (D-Mount Laurel) and Angela McKnight (D-Jersey City), calls for Hicks “to immediately resign or be 28 removed from his position due to his failure to protect the inmates 29 in the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility.”
In January, NJ Advance Media reported dozens of officials at Edna Mahan were suspended following a series of inmate beatings. Thirty-five members of the State Senate backed a resolution urging Hicks resignation last month.
“We do need to start doing this immediately, because we’re talking about human lives now,” Murphy said. “We’re talking about the safety and well-being of humans. That’s why this bill is so important.”
The resolution also calls for the Department of Justice to take control of the state facility in Hunterdon County and urges Gov. Phil Murphy to transfer inmates held there to a safer location.
The measure can go straight to the Assembly floor, but it’s not clear when the resolution will see a vote. Nor is it clear when the Assembly Judiciary Committee, where Carol Murphy is vice-chair, will begin holding announced hearings on the abuses at Edna Mahan.
The scandal at the state’s only women’s prison, the latest in a series, has spurred a state criminal probe that’s seen charges filed against four officials there.
Gov. Phil Murphy, who has so far stood by Hicks, a holdover from Gov. Chris Christie’s administration whom Gov. Murphy elevated to the department’s top post, but has launched his own independent investigation led by former State Comptroller Matt Boxer.
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal’s investigation remains ongoing, and it’s not clear when the Boxer investigation will yield results, though the governor has said it’s moving in an expedited manner.
The Assembly resolution comes after Assemblywoman Jean Stanfield (R-Westampton) introduced her own measure calling for Hicks’ impeachment.
Impeachments in New Jersey work in much the same way as they do at the national level. The Assembly impeaches a state official by simple majority vote and the Senate convicts with a two-thirds supermajority. A conviction can remove an official from office and bar them from public office in the future.
Stanfield’s impeachment resolution, introduced with a small group of bipartisan sponsors last month, was likely dead-on-arrival.
“The Assembly is in the process of scheduling our planned Assembly Judiciary Committee hearing about the pattern of misconduct at Edna Mahan,” said Kevin McArdle, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge), when asked about a timeline for impeachment. “The Speaker wishes for the committee’s findings to best determine remedial action.”
The Republican assemblywoman is mounting a campaign for a seat in the upper chamber against State Sen. Dawn Addiego (D-Evesham), who was elected under the banner of the GOP but defected to the Democratic Party in early 2019.
It’s not likely Coughlin would move a proposal that would boost Stanfield’s profile in the politically competitive eighth legislative district, and politics played at least some part in the more-recent Assembly resolution.
“She started fundraising on the fact that she introduced this bill,” Assemblywoman Murphy said of Stanfield. “These are human lives. This isn’t politics. When you start using a fundraising mechanism to spotlight a bill that you put in, it’s just wrong. These are human lives, this isn’t politics.”
In early February, Stanfield drew an attack from Addiego over a fundraising pitch that highlighted the beatings at Edna Mahan.
But her campaign denied that politics was a motivator.
“Assemblywoman Stanfield has said from the start that she doesn’t care how Marcus Hicks gets removed, so long as he’s removed now,” Stanfield campaign manager Kasey Dearden said. “She put forth her impeachment resolution because people like Dawn Addiego, Carol Murphy and Governor Murphy were asleep at the switch.”