A Summary Copy of the Select Oversight Committee Resolution to be Considered by the Legislature on Monday

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SCR.148 WEINBERG/ CORRADO

CONSTITUTES SPECIAL COMMITTEE OF SENATE AND GENERAL ASSEMBLY ENTITLED “NEW JERSEY LEGISLATIVE SELECT OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE.”

(WITHOUT REFERENCE)

This concurrent resolution would constitute a special committee of the Legislature entitled the “New Jersey Legislative Select Oversight Committee” (committee). The committee would investigate public sector screening practices with respect to the employment of individuals with a history of alleged criminal misconduct.  The committee would focus on how allegations of sexual assault, abuse, or harassment are handled by the government.  The committee would make recommendations on how laws that address this subject may be improved.

The committee would be comprised of 15 members.  Six members would be appointed by the Senate President, not more than four of whom would be of the same political party.  Nine members would be appointed by the Speaker of the General Assembly, not more than six of whom would be of the same political party.  There would be two co-chairs appointed jointly by the Senate President and Assembly Speaker from among the appointed members. There would be two vice co-chairs, who would not be members of the same political party as the co-chairs, appointed jointly by the Senate President and Assembly Speaker from among the appointed members.

The Committee would review:

a)the appropriateness of the Hudson County Prosecutor’s actions to oversee the handling of the allegations of sexual assault by a government official; and

b)all aspects of the policies and procedures regarding the screening of prospective employees and continued employment in the public sector of persons with questionable backgrounds, including any operations or practices concerning the handling of claims of sexual assault, abuse, or harassment.   The committee would issue a report of its findings and make recommendations on potential improvements to create meaningful policy changes, including recommendations regarding eligibility and screening for public sector employees, including senior level employees.

For the purposes of carrying out its charge under this resolution, the committee would have all the powers conferred under the laws and the Constitutions of the State of New Jersey and of the United States, including, but not limited to, the following powers, provided that no subpoena would be issued by the committee without the written consent of the co-chairs, vice co-chairs, President of the Senate and Speaker of the General Assembly:

a)     to issue subpoenas to compel attendance and testimony of persons and the production of books, papers, correspondence, other documents and materials, and electronic records and data;

b)     to hold hearings, take testimony under oath, and receive documentary or physical evidence relating to the matters and questions it is authorized to investigate or study;

c)     to use any and all reasonable means of interviewing or fact gathering, including, but not limited to, preliminary conferences or interviews;

d)     to convene a meeting or hearing to determine the adequacy of the return and rule on the objection if a return on a subpoena or order for the production of documentary evidence is incomplete or accompanied by an objection;

e)     to utilize the powers provided to legislative committees regarding witness perjury or refusal to answer or hold individuals or entities in contempt of the committee;

f)     to make findings and reports to the Senate and General Assembly of any recommendations, including recommendations for enforcement, that the committee considers appropriate with respect to the willful failure or refusal of any person to appear before it, to answer questions or give testimony, or to produce any books, papers, correspondence, other documents and materials, and electronic records and data that the committee may request;

g)     to respond to any judicial or other process, or to make application to the courts of this State, or any other state, or the United States;

h)     to report possible violations of any law, rule, regulation, or code to appropriate federal, State, or local authorities; and

i)     to adopt additional rules or procedures not inconsistent with this resolution.

The committee would be entitled to call to its assistance and avail itself of the services of the employees of the State of New Jersey, any political subdivision of the State, and any agency thereof, as required and as available for that purpose, and to employ any other services as may be deemed necessary, in order to perform its duties, and within the limits of funds appropriated or otherwise made available for that purpose.

The committee, upon the written approval of the Senate President and the Speaker of the General Assembly, would be entitled to call to its assistance, employ, and avail itself of the services of one or more special counsel retained to assist the committee.

The concurrent resolution would take effect immediately.

Background & Discussion

An article published on October 9, 2018 by NJ Advance Media revealed that Albert J. Alvarez abruptly resigned on October 2ndwithout any explanation for his departure from the Governor’s Office. Governor Murphy acknowledged Mr. Alvarez’s resignation, but declined to give any details about the departure when asked at a public event on October 9, 2018. On October 10, 2018, an article published by Politico New Jersey revealed that Mr. Alvarez had faced a criminal allegation that was investigated by law enforcement while he worked on the Governor’s 2017 campaign. Governor Murphy would later indicate that he and the First Lady were made aware of the allegations against Mr. Alvarez on October 2, 2018.

In a Wall Street Journal article published on October 14, 2018, Katie Brennan, a former volunteer for Governor Murphy’s campaign and now Chief of Staff at the State’s housing agency accused Mr. Alvarez, then the campaign’s outreach director for the Muslim and Latino communities who was later hired as the Chief of Staff at the School Development Authority, of sexually assaulting her in her apartment in April 2017. In the article, Ms. Brennan indicated that she immediately notified her husband and best friend and reported the incident to police the next day and underwent a sexual assault evaluation the day after that.

After Governor Murphy won the gubernatorial election in November 2017, Ms. Brennan and Mr. Alvarez worked on the Governor’s transition committee. Ms. Alvarez indicates that she was in contact with the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office several times since her initial report and believed that an arrest would be forthcoming. Ms. Brennan indicates that she allowed a friend to inform transition counsel that Mr. Alvarez might be criminally charged.

In December 2017 the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office informed Ms. Brennan that it declined to file charges against Mr. Alvarez. According to Ms. Brennan, Assistant Prosecutor Jane Weiner told her the sexual assault examination found DNA evidence, but it was deemed “not strong enough,” and Mr. Alvarez had maintained that the incident was consensual.

Ms. Brennan indicates that she informed the Governor’s Chief Counsel, Matt Platkin, about her allegation against Mr. Alvarez in March 2018. A senior administration official said Mr. Platkin referred the matter to the Chief Ethics Officer in the Governor’s Office and recused himself from the investigation because he knew both Ms. Brennan and Mr. Alvarez. The Ethics Officer then referred the matter to the Attorney General’s Office, the official said.

Mr. Platkin instructed Mr. Alvarez’s then boss, New Jersey Schools Development Authority Chief Executive Charlie McKenna, in April to tell Mr. Alvarez it would be a good idea for him to “separate himself” from State employment, the official said. Mr. Alvarez told Mr. McKenna he would start looking for jobs, but a timeline for his departure wasn’t specified, Mr. McKenna said. “He wasn’t being fired, he wasn’t being ordered to leave,” he said. “It was just a conversation where I said, ‘I was told that this would be a good idea.’ ” One of the senior administration officials said advising Mr. Alvarez to leave was legally the most they could do against an employee at a State authority.

Ms. Brennan indicates that no one told her that Mr. Alvarez had been asked to leave, and on June 1 she emailed the Governor and First Lady indicating that she wanted to speak to them about a “sensitive matter” that happened during the campaign. Ms. Brennan indicates that the Governor replied, “Hang in. We are on it” and that he was informing staff to arrange a meeting, which never happened.Ms. Brennan indicates that she was contacted by Jonathan Berkon, a partner at the law firm Perkins Coie LLP, who served as an attorney for the campaign, and told that Mr. Alvarez would be leaving his job. Three months later, however, Mr. Alvarez was still working at the School Development Authority.

According to a spokesman for the Governor’s Office, the Governor and the First Lady were informed of the specific nature of Ms. Brennan’s allegations on October 2nd, the same day that Mr. Alvarez resigned. However in a statement on October 13thGovernor Murphy stated that he had no information beyond the fact that Mr. Alvarez had abruptly resigned.

On October 15th, Governor Murphy ordered an investigation into Mr. Alvarez’s hiringAdditionally, Attorney General Grewal announced that the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office will review the criminal case because the Hudson County Prosecutor, Esther Suarez, knew both parties but was not personally involved in the decision not to file charges.

In her Wall Street Journal account, Ms. Brennan also indicated that she turned down a $15,000 settlement offer not to disclose her allegations against Mr. Alvarez.

Additional allegations of sexual misconduct have been made against Mr. Alvarez since Ms. Brennan came forward including a woman who claims that Mr. Alvarez attacked her in 1999 while they were both in law school and a woman claiming that Mr. Alvarez spiked her drink and sexually assaulted her in June 2016.

Other concerns have arisen regarding Governor Murphy’s hiring and firing decisions including the hiring of Marcellus Jackson, who went to prison for 25 months after pleading guilty to bribery in 2007, and was hired at the State Department of Education before details of his past cameto light in September 2018.

Questions have also arisen regarding the hiring of Derrick Green, whose consulting company, Green Consulting, was hired by Governor Murphy’s campaign at a cost of $2 million to help get out the vote, and was later hired by Governor Murphy as a Senior Advisor in the Secretary of State’s Office. Earlier this month, several media outlets reported that Mr. Green’s company is currently involved in a campaign finance scandal in Bermuda. Questions have also arisen concerning Mr. Green’s role in the Secretary of State’s Office as several employees reported that they had no knowledge that Mr. Green worked there, nor does his name appear in the State’s directory.

Concerns were also raised in February when Paula White, who won unanimous confirmation from the State School Board to serve as an Assistant Commissioner at the Department of Education, was abruptly fired hours later. Some expressed concern that Ms. White was fired as a result of her work for Democrats for Education Reform, an advocacy group that works to reform tenure, expand charter schools in struggling districts, and utilize national standards linked to testing — all things that the New Jersey Education Association, a powerful union that supports Governor Murphy, has opposed.

The sponsors of the concurrent resolution note that the Legislature, as a co-equal branch of government, has a responsibility to undertake a review of the State’s policies and procedures concerning the screening of public sector employees as well as the manner in which allegations of sexual assault, abuse, or harassment are handled and make recommendations to provide for additional safeguards, if needed, that ensure survivors are treated with dignity and respect.

Fiscal Impact

The concurrent resolution is not certified for a fiscal note.

Support & Opposition

There is no expressed support for or opposition to the concurrent resolution at this time.

 

Select Oversight Committee

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