Murphy’s hiring practices now officially under investigation
The special legislative committee looking into Murphy administration hiring practices has begun its work and will hear next month from a campaign and state worker who raised sexual assault allegations that appear to have been repeatedly ignored by the governor’s team.
The Legislative Select Oversight Committee’s first meeting was a brief formality – lasting less than 15 minutes, mostly to formally adopt its rules and procedures and clear the way for outside counsel to request documents from Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration.
The next meeting, on Dec. 4, should be far more interesting. Lawmakers say Katie Brennan accepted the panel’s invitation to testify about allegations that Albert Alvarez sexually assaulted her during the campaign. She reported it to prosecutors, who didn’t bring charges, and told the transition and administration about it, though he was hired and kept in a state job for months.
Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, said the goal is to determine facts and recommend changes to vetting of job applicants and handling of sexual misconduct cases.
“We’ll see where this leads. Ms. Brennan is the first one to testify. She will put out the timeline and tell us first-hand to whom she spoke,” Weinberg said.
Alvarez denies the allegations. Weinberg said he will also be invited to testify.
Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin, D-Essex, says the allegations are serious and will be rigorously examined. She said she hopes it is wrapped up before work on the next state budget begins. Murphy will likely propose the budget in late February, with hearings starting a few weeks later.
“We understand that there’s going to be people that they would like to hire, but we just want to make sure that there’s rules set in place that really examines this person’s background,” Pintor Marin said.
Alvarez, an attorney, was director for community outreach for Murphy's campaign. He worked in the transition office as deputy director for personnel, then as chief of staff for the Schools Development Authority.
Three outside lawyers have been hired by the Legislature to help with the investigation: criminal defense attorneys Michael Critchley and Joseph Hayden and labor issues lawyer Rosemary Alito.
Those lawyers will craft records requests and – if necessary, depending on the level of cooperation – subpoenas. The panel will hold a series of hearings, then write a report that will recommend clear policies and procedures for vetting state job candidates and handling sexual misconduct cases.
Weinberg said it won’t be a fishing expedition.
“We will use this opportunity to bring an end to the types of abuse and misconduct that have plagued society for much too long,” Weinberg said.
Weinberg said the panel is empowered to look at the actions of the transition office and administration but not the Murphy campaign.
Murphy said he respects the Legislature’s review as well as three he announced last month.
The Murphy administration hired outside counsel, led by former Supreme Court Justice Peter Verniero, to review its hiring practices. A division of the Civil Service Commission is studying workplace processes for handling sexual misconduct cases. And the attorney general is reviewing how prosecutors handle rape allegations.
“I think the guidelines, the benchmarks for all of us to keep in mind, are one is we stand with survivors. Two, we can’t let politics get into this at all. This has got to be calling balls and strikes,” he said. “And thirdly it’s got to be a whole of government. All of us, as I said a couple weeks ago, we’re looking in the mirror. And at times that can be very uncomfortable. And I just want to make sure that we’re all going to look in the mirror together.”