Murphy looking to replace Ocean prosecutor with Democratic lawyer
TOMS RIVER — Ocean County will likely get a new prosecutor in the very near future.
Gov. Phil Murphy will name Bradley Billhimer, a Democratic lawyer in Toms River to the position, replacing Joseph Coronato, according to state Sen. Robert Singer, R-Ocean, who isn't pleased with the proposed change.
Coronato has served in the role since 2013.
The New Jersey Globe news website, which first reported the news, said the announcement could come this week.
"I was disappointed that they weren't allowing Joe Coronato to continue for at least another year or two. He's done really an excellent job in the fight against opioid addiction and the fight against opioids in general. Last year we lost 140 people in Ocean County alone, " Singer told New Jersey 101.5.
The Republican said he backed Steven Secare, a Democratic defense attorney and former prosecutor who he believed was more qualified for the position.
"If you took a look at the resume of Steven Secare and Billhimer there's no comparison. But this is the governor's appointment and it's not always based on who's best qualified, but who knows someone the best," Singer said.
County prosecutors are nominated by the governor and confirmed by the Senate to serve a five-year term. They can be renominated or serve in a holdover capacity until there is a replacement.
Billhimer's nomination needs to be unanimously approved by Singer and the other two Ocean County state senators — James Holzapfel and Chris Connors — in order to advance his nomination.
"I've been in the Senate for 27 years and I've never blocked anyone. That doesn't mean there can't be a first, but that's not my mode of operation," Singer said. "I haven't met the gentleman. I haven't spoken to him yet and I certainly can't make an opinion until I've met and spoken to them. Nor would I."
Singer said he has an appointment to meet Billhimer. Among his questions are how he will handle the opioid problem.
Murphy could also choose to remove Coronato and direct the attorney general to replace him with an assistant attorney general who would serve as "acting prosecutor" and not be paid the full prosecutor's salary.
"That is not a well advised process because then you try to circumvent the input of the senate, and if you do that you take the risk of that he may never be signed off on, which means his entire career he will be 'acting,'" Singer said.
Singer urged Murphy to allow the senators to speak with Billhimer and follow a process that he said has worked in the past.
"If Murphy circumvents the system, he does so at his own peril," Singer said. "Let the process go forward and let's see what happens."