Christie gives in to Democrats after 6-year fight over Supreme Court
A nearly six-year battle over the state Supreme Court finally ended Monday as Gov. Chris Christie announced he will nominate a Democrat he has known more than 15 years, Walter Timpone, as an associate justice.
With Senate President Stephen Sweeney at his side at the Statehouse, Christie announced the agreement and said he expected relatively swift approval. He said the deal should show residents that “we’re getting our jobs done.”
“The Senate president and I have worked hard over the years to try to make sure that things are accomplished for the people of this state. A judicial nomination process which works appropriately is something that the state needs and something that I am relieved to make sure continues for the state from here,” Christie said.
Timpone, 65, a resident of Cranford, is a partner at the law firm of McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter. He was a federal prosecutor for 11 years, starting in 1984, where he was chief of the public corruption unit. He’s currently a member of the state Election Law Enforcement Commission.
“This is a magical day for me, one that I could have never imagined ever coming. It’s humbling. It’s exciting. And I hope to do a great job,” Timpone said.
In May 2010, Christie declined to renominate Associate Justice John Wallace Jr. to continue on the Supreme Court, angering Democrats who said he didn’t merit losing his position.
In the years that followed, Democrats repeatedly rejected Christie nominees, saying the choices would have titled the traditional partisan balance of the court. The primary issue has been how to view Justice Jaynee LaVecchia, a registered independent. Christie has said he should be able to appoint four Republicans to the court but finally relented.
“Because I wanted to get something done. People of this state give us these jobs expecting us to get something done,” Christie said.
If Timpone is confirmed, as expected, the court will have three Democrats, three Republicans and an independent. Sweeney said the nomination ensures a balanced court.
“Mr. Timpone is very well-respected, and we will be having a hearing in the very near future. I would expect that he will be confirmed, from the reaction I’m getting from members,” Sweeney said. “It’s great to be able to turn this chapter behind us and move forward.”
Since 2010, an appellate judge has been elevated to the Supreme Court to serve as an acting justice.
Timpone would serve a relatively short stint on the Supreme Court of around four and a half years. Justices are required to retire at age 70. Timpone turns 70 on Nov. 10, 2020, meaning his successor would be selected by the governor elected in 2017.
Timpone’s selection also means Superior Court Judge David Bauman, of Holmdel, has had his nomination scuttled twice without so much as a hearing. Christie called him “an extraordinary individual” who extended well-wishes to the governor and Timpone when he learned of the switch.
“He said, ‘What I care about most is that the judiciary works the way it’s supposed to, that the nomination process gets going the way it’s supposed to at all levels of the court, and that you get the kind of person you want,’” Christie said.
In 2002, when Christie became U.S. attorney for New Jersey, Timpone was nearly appointed Christie’s first assistant, the top staff position. The appointment was nixed because Timpone had angered federal investigators when he visited then-U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli at his home while the senator was under FBI surveillance at a time one of Timpone’s legal clients, Bobby Janiszewski, was tapped to secretly tape conversations with the senator.
Christie said Monday that he fought for Timpone’s appointment and that the Justice Department was wrong to block it. Christie even went to Washington at the time to make his case to the attorney general and deputy attorney general, to no avail.
“I know all the facts and circumstances in that matter and none of it concerns me,” Christie said.
Christie said he trusts Timpone’s judgment and has no questions about his qualifications or integrity. The governor said he didn’t formally interview about Timpone about the opening, though his chief counsel’s office did last week.
“It doesn’t mean we agree on everything. I’m sure we don’t. I’m confident we don’t. We’ve had lots of discussions about politics over the years. The fact is that we know we don’t agree on everything, but that’s never been the way I’m going to make these judgments,” Christie said.
“If we thought he was going to be a yes-man, we wouldn’t put him up,” Sweeney said. “Mr. Timpone has a impeccable reputation that’s been established over a lot of years.
Christie said Timpone would be the first graduate of Seton Hall Law School to sit on the state Supreme Court.
Christie also has a law degree from Seton Hall.