Sunday, June 13

Bill Aimed at Curtailing Law Enforcement from Political Abuse Passes Committee


The Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee this morning passed Senate Bill 3242, which would prohibit certain public officials from campaigning for election to public office during the term of their public service and for a period of three years afterwards. The bill would apply to the Attorney General and the First Assistant Attorney General, and all county prosecutors, assistant prosecutors, and legal assistants to prosecutors.

All members of the committee voted yes on the bill, sponsored by state Senator Richard Codey (D-27).

Making his case to the committee ahead of the vote, Codey quoted Thomas Puccio (pictured, above right), a Justice Department attorney and the lead prosecutor in the Abscam federal corruption case, who made the comment in February of 1982.

“A U.S. Attorney once said, ‘yes, I can indict a ham sandwich,’” said Codey, troubled by that kind of concentrated power. “Time and again we have seen U.S. attorneys [abuse that power]. To have good government and good law enforcement and use that position to make a case for themselves instead of making a decision for the people, [the bill strives for corrective action.]”

“It’s wrong; it shouldn’t be tolerated,” added the former governor.

His legislation doesn’t apply to federal U.S. Attorneys, of course, but the principle is the same, he noted.

“This bill says prosecutors and assistant prosecutors shouldn’t be allowed to run for office for three years after they leave office,” he explained.

The name of former Governor Chris Christie didn’t come up in the hearing, but Christie, who served as U.S. Attorney prior to defeating Jon Corzine in 2013, used his law enforcement perch as a runway for elected office, according to his critics, and crossed the line by strategically carving out a path for himself to power, leaving bosses – or at least one notable boss – standing with the proviso that they continue to enjoy the partnership once Christie beat Corzine.

According to the language of S-3242:

This bill would prohibit certain public officials from campaigning for election to public office during the term of their public service and for a period of three years afterwards.  The bill would apply to the Attorney General and the First Assistant Attorney General, and all county prosecutors, assistant prosecutors, and legal assistants to prosecutors.

Currently, certain restrictions already apply to county prosecutors, assistant prosecutors, and legal assistants to prosecutors.  The restrictions require that no person who holds any of these positions could (1) be a candidate for election to, or hold, any elective public office or any office or position with any political party or club, or (2) in connection with the candidacy of any person for public office, sign or authorize the use of his name in connection with political or campaign literature or material, or print, publish or distribute such political or campaign literature or material.  Under the bill, these restrictions would extend to the Attorney General and First Assistant Attorney General.

The bill would also prohibit county prosecutors, assistant prosecutors, and legal assistants to prosecutors from being a candidate for election to, or from holding, the office or position of delegate or alternate to the national convention of any political party.

No one argued with it, and Senator Sam Thompson (R-12) commended Codey for the legislation.

“It’s a good bill,” Thompson said.

 

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