The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez’s renomination after a series of tense exchanges with Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck).
Weinberg questioned Suarez on the handling of Katie Brennan’s sexual assault allegations against former Schools Development Authority chief of staff Al Alvarez.
The Hudson County Prosecutor’s office declined to pursue charges, as did the office of the Middlesex County Prosecutor, which was tapped to lead a separate probe into Brennan’s claims after the legislature began holding hearings about the alleged assault.
“I have serious problems with the way the Katie Brennan case was handled, with the way people were forthcoming and how honest they were,” Weinberg said. “I have a problem with your accusation that we somehow made all of this up because you and Al Alvarez have Hispanic last names.”
At multiple points, Suarez and Weinberg interrupted one another, claimed the other had a faulty recollection of past events and challenging various claim.
Suarez also faced questions about a lawsuit lodged by an employee who claimed she was passed over for a promotion because she was pregnant. The prosecutor declined to comment on that case, citing the pending nature of the litigation.
She was also asked about Gene Rubino, the former chief of detectives at the HCPO. Suarez said Rubino, who did not attend an academy — as is required to be chief of detectives — was put into place by a previous prosecutor.
Weinberg said she believed the prosecutor came to the Judiciary Committee hearing prepared to argue and lacking candor. Her behavior drew a light rebuke from another committee member.
“I haven’t seen many witnesses cutting off senators,” said State Sen. Michael Doherty (R-Washington), who voted against advancing Suarez’s nomination.
Weinberg was not allowed to read a June 21 letter regarding Suarez’s character because the letter was not available to members of the public.
She and Doherty were the only members of the committee to vote against Suarez’s nomination. Other members, including State Sens. Nellie Pou (D-Paterson) and Paul Sarlo (D-Woodridge) praised Suarez, citing their longstanding knowledge of her.