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State Commission of Investigation member Robert Burzichelli. (Photo: Greenberg, Burzichelli and Greenberg).

Sweeney SCI appointment to be pulled back, giving pick to next Senate President

Robert Burzichelli was named on Monday, but his term still has more than a year left

By David Wildstein, November 10 2021 5:43 pm

The reappointment of labor lawyer Robert Burzichelli to the State Commission of Investigation will be rescinded after a snafu over the expiration of his term.

Senate President Steve Sweeney filed a direct appointment of Burzichelli to another four-year stint on Monday, but his term isn’t up until December 31, 2022.

That mean the decision about who gets the SCI seat will belong to Sweeney’s successor, likely Nicholas Scutari.

“This was an administrative mistake on our end regarding the expiration date for Commissioner Burzichelli’s term,” said Kathy Riley, a spokesperson for the SCI.   “It will be corrected by the Senate Majority Office.”

Depending on Scutari’s decision, South Jersey could wind up without representation on the independent investigatory panel that has statutory subpoena power.

Burzichelli was one of eight direct appointments he made this week as part of the lame duck portion of his Sweeney’s tenure as a legislative leader.

Two of the four seats on the SCI are made directly by the governor, with the Senate President and Assembly Speaker each getting one direct appointment.  No more than two can be of the same political party.

Burzichelli was first named to the commission by Sweeney in June 2014 to fill the last six months of an unexpired term.  He was reappointed in 2015 and 2019.   He is the brother of Sweeney’s longtime running mate, Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Paulsboro).  John Burzichelli lost his bid for re-election to an 11th term last week.

Speaker Craig Coughlin named Kevin Reina to the SCI last year.  He filled the seat of John Hoffman, who had been named by Coughlin in 2018 but resigned in October 2020.

Two SCI commissioners named by Republican Gov. Chris Christie are on holdover status since Gov. Phil Murphy never filled the seats. The term of Joseph Scancarella, a former assemblyman and Superior Court Judge from Passaic County, expired at the end of 2019 and the seat occupied by another Republican, Rosemary Iannacone, a former Christie aide, expired at the end of last year.

Since Reina is an independent, Murphy can name one Democrat to fill the two vacant seats.

There was a time when the SCI had real teeth, back in the day when a visit from an investigator or a subpoena to appear could reliably cause people in power to lose control of their bladder.

The Legislature created the SCI in 1968 as part of a package of crime fighting bills pushed through by Gov. Richard Hughes after allegations that a North Jersey assemblyman worked to cancel a Senate hearing on organized crime at the request of reputed mob boss Jerry Catena.

Not long after that, an assistant state attorney general, in a speech to a state journalistic society, said that three incumbent legislators were “entirely too comfortable with organized crime.”  He later upped the number to six.

The new SCI was created with enormous investigatory power, largely to keep the Legislature out of the organized crime investigation business.  The commission had the authority to authorize wiretaps, to compel top mob bosses to testify, and even to temporarily jail those who refused to appear before them.   They would refer their findings to law enforcement and acted independently of politics.

While the SCI has broad jurisdiction, these days they deal in issues that are smaller in scope to the ones that dominated their original mission.

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