The long-muttered-about departure of Gurbir Grewal from the attorney general’s office has finally opened the floodgates on who will replace him.
It’s an enormous job and there isn’t a person who on day one really would know how to run an office of 5,000 attorneys while overseeing the Department of Consumer Affairs not to mention the state police.
The office amounts to the largest law firm in the state.
“The news about Gurbir resigning as attorney general and going to the important job at the securities and exchange
commission is surprising because it came out of the blue but not unexpected if you think about it,” veteran defense attorney Joe Hayden told InsiderNJ. “Gurbir has a vast amount of experience as a federal prosecutor and he did a superb job bringing creative and gutsy litigation against Trump on behalf of the State of New Jersey. But lawyers like challenges, and he might find at this time he would like yet another challenge in the financial world, in the federal arena, rather than on behalf of the state.
“It is clear the governor was not caught unexpected because his office had a gracious statement prepared about the accomplishments of the attorney general,” Hayden added. “He probably has a potential interim appointment in mind because he has said he will not make a permanent appointment until after the election. Usually the first place the governor looks is to the first assistant AG and I suspect he will be given serious consideration because Gurbir thought enough of him to have him in that job. On the other hand, New Jersey has many fine and experienced lawyers and the administration may have another able lawyer in mind.”
Grewal’s successor may come as a kind of reaction to the departing AG.
While Murphy was reportedly delighted with the top cop’s aggressive legal challenges to the former administration of Donald Trump, other allies of the governor writhed over Grewal’s lower level prosecutions and didn’t think Murphy kept him on a short enough leash.
If the main counter Grewal argument rests on having a closer ally to the governor, Matt Platkin (pictured, top) may emerge as the replacement.
Indeed, for a while now there has been one favorite, based on his close association with Governor Phil Murphy.
Chief Counsel Platkin departed the Murphy Administration in 2020 to pursue an opportunity in the private sector at Lowenstein Sandler. Platkin served as Chief Counsel to the Governor since the beginning of the Administration in January 2018.
He’s the most discussed choice.
Murphy likes him and trusts him.
Might there be some roadblocks?
There could be some remaining bad blood between Platkin and Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) which could hamper his chances once this lovey-dovey election cycle ends and the legislature again assumes an antagonistic posture with the front office.
There are some other options, among them Andrew Bruck, Grewal’s first assistant.
Before joining the Office of the Attorney General, Bruck spent five years at the U.S. Department of
Justice. During that time, he served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey, and held several roles in the office of Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, including Senior Counsel, Deputy Chief of Staff, and Acting Chief of Staff. Before joining the Department of Justice, Bruck worked as a litigation associate in the New York office of Davis Polk & Wardwell and clerked for Chief Justice Stuart Rabner of the New Jersey Supreme Court. He graduated from Princeton University and Stanford Law School.
Then there’s Assemblyman John McKeon (D-27). of West Orange.
One of the most competent people in the legislature, McKeon was on the 2017 short list for the job of attorney general and lost to Grewal.
The 20-year lawmaker runs a successful private law practice and has deep experience across a wide range of disciplines.
He’s a good litigator and as a former mayor, has experience working with police in these politically sensitive times.
Widely respected, politically savvy, experienced, and a diehard Murphy fan, McKeon could emerge as a strong choice if Platkin trial balloons run into bad weather.
Some other names:
Middlesex County Sheriff Millie Scott.
The front office’s political love affair with Middlesex makes anyone over there a natural speculative option, at the very least.
Phil Sellinger. The veteran attorney got pretty far along in the process last time, but he is also very far along now in the pipeline to be the state’s next U.S. Attorney.
John Azzorella. A competent trial attorney. Tough. Respected.
Peg Schaffer. The Somerset County Democratic Committee Chair is a top lawyer and close to the Murphy Administration.
Angelo Genova. When it comes to the law, he’s the best of the best.
To a person, every source connected to this story says Murphy will have to consider someone who fits into his likely political plan of transitioning from state to federal politics as he angles to run on a national ticket.