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Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe)

Select committee won’t make any criminal referrals

Weinberg defends Critchley on conflict of interest concerns

By Nikita Biryukov, June 05 2019 11:56 am

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated with comment from Murphy Press Secretary Alyana Alfaro.

The Select Committee on Oversight won’t be making any criminal referrals following the issuance of a scathing report that said members of Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration failed state housing agency chief of staff Katie Brennan.

“The report is out there and any law enforcement agency that chooses to look at it can,” Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, a committee co-chair, said. “We’ve issued our report, period.”

Brennan has accused former Schools Development Authority chief of staff Al Alvarez of sexually assaulting her in April 2017.

The committee will also leave the governor to deal with his own staff, eschewing any recommendations on whether senior officials the panel criticized should be removed from service within state government.

“I think that’s up to the governor. He’s the one who is served by these people. He is the one who appoints them,” Weinberg said.

Her sentiments were echoed by Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin, the committee’s co-chair in the lower chamber.

Brennan, however, would like to see Murphy take action.

“To our lawmakers, you now have a mandate — take meaningful action to create real accountability for perpetrators of sexual violence and for those who would protect them. To the Administration, you have a mandate as well, to hold accountable those who failed to take action or actively protected Al Alvarez. To truly claim the moral authority to implement a strong, pro-women, progressive policy agenda, the individuals in your senior leadership who have been complicit must be held to account.”

The committee’s leadership was asked whether the Michael Critchley’s involvement in the drafting of the report posed any conflict.

Critchley is also serving as the personal attorney of South Jersey powerbroker George Norcross, with whom Murphy is currently feuding, and is currently involved in a separate suit against the governor.

Weinberg thought that line of thinking was bunk.

“First of all, that is a crude question,” Weinberg said. “I think Mr. Critchley is an attorney of the highest integrity, and there was never any hint in any place that these attorneys, any of the three of them, played politics, guided us in an inappropriate road.”

The committee’s Wednesday hearing is almost certainly its last.

The committee’s chairs and vice chairs indicated — to the dismay of its Senate Republican cohort — that the panel would not investigate other hiring issues that have drawn fire to murphy’s administration.

State Sen. Kristin Corrado, a committee vice chair, and State Sen. Steve Oroho abstained on the vote to release the committee’s report, citing the committee’s narrow focus on Alvarez’s hiring.

The committee’s enabling legislation gave them purview over the questionable hirings of other Murphy officials, but those avenues were left largely unexplored.

While the committee’s work may be done, but it’s legislative recommendations are already being worked on, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin said.

“I commend the chairs and members of the Legislative Select Oversight Committee for conducting fair, transparent and unbiased hearings into this matter. At no time did they allow politics to play any role in the Committee’s work.

“I share the Committee’s frustration regarding discrepancies in testimony and key questions left unanswered. I believe the recommended changes to laws and policies included in the Committee’s report are entirely reasonable and should be adopted,” Coughlin said. “To that end, the Assembly is already in the process of drafting bi-partisan legislation to implement the recommendations included in the final report the Committee officially adopted today.”

Murphy press secretary Alyana Alfaro said the governor’s office will review the report and the committee’s policy recommendations, also citing his own actions in response to Brennan’s allegations.

“Governor Murphy has long said that we can and must do better to allow survivors of sexual assault to seek justice. He commissioned a systemic review by former Attorney General and Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court Peter Verniero, launched an internal review of existing EEO policy in State government, and directed the Attorney General to review how these cases are handled by law enforcement.

“These actions have already led to meaningful reforms, putting New Jersey on a path to being a national leader in the fight for survivors of sexual assault. Although there is still work to do to change the culture surrounding issues of sexual assault, the Governor is confident that these steps will significantly improve our current system.  The Governor’s Office will review the Legislature’s report and recommendations.”

The committee’s report more than once slammed Verniero’s investigation and disagreed with its central finding.

Individuals, not the system, failed Brennan, the legislative report said, contradicting the chief conclusion of Verniero’s team.

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