Lawmakers launch probe into Murphy hire, sexual assault investigations
One day after Gov. Phil Murphy announced three inquires — into the hiring practices of his gubernatorial transition office, how sexual assault allegations are investigated and what changes in state policies should be considered — the Democratic leadership of the state Senate has announced the creation of its own investigative committee.
State Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said the Select Committee on Investigation will conduct an inquiry into the handling of sexual assault allegations made by Katie Brennan against former Murphy administration official Al Alvarez, who resigned earlier this month as chief of staff of the New Jersey Schools Development Authority when he learned her accusations were about to be published by the Wall Street Journal.
Brennan has expressed dismay at her accusations being brushed aside by top Murphy administration and law enforcement officials. Hudson County prosecutors declined to charge Alvarez.
“I was highly offended after reading stories about the way Ms. Brennan’s assault was handled, and it’s not acceptable,” Sweeney said Tuesday. “She did everything a victim was supposed to do, and unfortunately no one really listened to her, so we need to get to the bottom of it. But there’s other issues too that we have to look at.”
The panel will also review government hiring practices and background checks, hold hearings and review the criminal justice system’s procedures for responding to allegations of sex assault, abuse and harassment.
Republicans first called for a legislative investigation last week.
Sweeney said he’s hopeful the Murphy administration will cooperate with the committee.
“When you’re talking about a sexual assault and some other poor hiring choices, we need to look at the practice and develop legislation to ensure the process is better going forward," he said.
Before Brennan’s story became public, questions were raised about the Murphy administration’s hiring of Marcellus Jackson to be a special assistant in the Department of Education. Jackson was convicted of federal corruption charges and was barred from public employment.
Another questionable hire was of campaign consultant Derrick Green, who was reportedly paid $2 million by the Murphy campaign even though he had been under investigation for his role in a campaign finance scandal in Bermuda.
State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg D- Bergen, will lead the select committee.
“My hope for the committee is when we look at all the issues surrounding how the state as a whole deals with issues of harassment, background checks and law enforcement, that we will come out of it making New Jersey a model for how to deal with these very sensitive and troublesome issues," she said.
She said it’s fine if Murphy wants to have his own inquiry into how Brennan’s sexual assault allegations were treated but she believes the Legislature has an important role to play.
“We’ve known what’s wrong for generations; it’s just time to correct it," she said.
Other committee members include state Sens. Sandra Cunningham, D-Hudson; Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex; Fred Madden, D-Gloucester; Steve Oroho, R-Sussex; and Kristin Corrado, R-Passaic.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, announced an unspecified number of Assembly representatives will also be serving on the Select Committee.