Does Porrino think New Jersey should elect its attorney general?

Roseland | Jul 30, 2018 at 2:32 pm
From our print edition

Chris Porrino, on the biggest question surrounding the office of attorney general, which he held from June 2016 to the end of Gov. Chris Christie’s administration:

I’m a lawyer. I’m not a politician. And I’m not even affiliated with a political party. I think it’s one of the great things about this structure, and (current Attorney General Gurbir) Grewal is a great example of this. He’s a lawyer. He is a real lawyer, a former federal prosecutor, someone with real experience and judgment in the courtroom. When you move to a structure that is elected, by definition, you may be a really good lawyer, but you also have to be a politician. And what that does is, it effectively excludes just the folks who were really good lawyers.

I was restrained on this subject of elected versus appointed while I was AG. There was some conversation about whether we should move to an elected AG. I’m happy to say now that, for the way the office is structured in New Jersey — where the Attorney General’s Office has authority over not just its own office and original criminal jurisdiction to bring cases and indict individuals, but it’s got supervisory authority over all 21 counties, where I can supersede as AG and there’s no one that can challenge that authority — it wouldn’t be practical. 

When you think about going to raise money and how you’re going to dance through the potential conflicts in every county, with every prosecutor’s office being under your supervision, it’s impossible. For the remaining (AGs around the country) who are not elected, very few are appointed this way. Some are appointed by their Supreme Court or appointed by their Legislature. In my view, the office in New Jersey is too powerful in terms of the law enforcement responsibility and the criminal responsibility, and too broad in scope, to have an elected AG. So, if you want to elect an AG, you have to change the scope and you have to narrow it like the vast majority of those 44 states.

The opportunity for people to perceive you as having made decisions about someone’s liberty based on how you think people might vote or based on how you think you may get contributions is a recipe for disaster, given the breadth and scope of the office. The notion of having an elected attorney general in New Jersey, given the current structure and makeup, would be a terrible mistake.

People asked me while I was AG and I declined to answer because I didn’t think it was appropriate. So, thanks for the chance.

— TOM BERGERON

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