Gov. Phil Murphy has called for an independent investigation into allegations that Tom Moran, the editorial page editor of the Star-Ledger, made physical contact with the Hudson County Prosecutor while pursuing an interview with her.
“Putting your hands on anyone in that matter based on how it was described to me is never okay,” Murphy said at his press briefing on Wednesday. “I can’t believe I’ve got to say that.”
A spokesperson for the prosecutor, Esther Suarez, said that Moran grabbed her arm with ‘force’ in an April 2019 incident. Moran says he gently tapped her elbow and called Suarez a liar.
Murphy pushed back on Moran’s dismissal of the Suarez’s assertion.
“We always have to start in the place of believing the women who come forward,” stated Murphy. “That, I think, holds here as well.”
In multiple columns since the 2016 presidential election and through the #MeToo movement, Moran had been a consistent advocate of believing accusations of sexual assault and misconduct leveled by women.
Murphy did not allege that Moran did anything wrong but said there should be a probe into the incident.
“If there’s an accusation, there should be an independent investigation,” said Murphy. “I don’t see why it would be any different on this one.
Suarez’s spokesperson, Jennifer Morrill, said on Tuesday that the Star-Ledger was advised of the incident prior to the New Jersey Globe first reporting it this week.
The idea that the state’s largest newspaper — or Advance Publications, the media company that owns them — would ignore a notification of a complaint leveled against one of their employees appeared to bother the New Jersey governor, who suggested they have an obligation to conduct a probe.
“If the organization itself knew about this and did nothing to look into it, I think they have to answer for that as well,” Murphy said.
State Sen. Holly Schepisi (R-River Vale), a Republican who served on the Legislative Select Oversight Committee that investigated the Murphy administration’s hiring of Al Alvarez in 2019, said that Suarez’s side of the story is credible and should be thoroughly reviewed.
“She doesn’t strike me as the type to have made something up like that,” Schepisi said. “I have a hard time believing this was totally fabricated.”
Schepisi said that it’s possible that sometimes, in the heat of a situation, people don’t realize their actions are making others feel uncomfortable.
“In today’s climate, women and their experiences are to be believed,” the Bergen County lawmaker said. “It sets a bad precedent to go out there and say she was a liar.”
Schepisi, who was a strong critic of the governor’s office during the investigation into allegations that Alvarez was hired despite an accusation that he had sexually assaulted a volunteer while working on Murphy’s 2016 campaign, said she agreed with Murphy that an independent investigation is warranted.
“Any time we have a situation like this, internal investigations need to take place to be sure to analyze, evaluate and independently see if something improper took place,” she said.
Steve Alessi, the president of NJ Advance Media, told the New Jersey Globe that Moran advised them of the issue with Suarez, although it’s not immediately clear at what point he notified his supervisors. It’s also not clear when the newspaper first learned of the incident.
“Tom reached out immediately to us upon becoming aware that there was concern about this years-old incident, and yesterday wrote to the prosecutor to apologize for touching her elbow.”
Alessi said the Star-Ledger is standing behind Moran in his battle with Suarez, a top candidate to become the next U.S. Attorney for New Jersey.
“Beyond that, we have reviewed the video, what Tom told us about that day and the editorial board’s past criticisms of Prosecutor Suarez,” Alessi said. “We are confident Tom has acted responsibly and professionally.”