Porrino named new chair of N.J. Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission

Heads 13-member commission that examine racial, ethnic disparities in state’s criminal justice system

Chris Porrino. (File photos)

In an announcement that shows the level of respect so many have for Chris Porrino and his legal acumen, Gov. Phil Murphy announced this week that Porrino will chair the New Jersey Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission.

There’s no disputing Porrino’s talent, as the current chair of litigation at Lowenstein Sandler once served as attorney general for the state.

Porrino, however, served in the role during a Republican administration (he also served as Gov. Chris Christie’s chief counsel) and has been on the opposite of cases involving the Murphy administration.

Porrino was jointly designated as the chair by state Senate President Nick Scutari (D-Clark) and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge) — who also are Democrats. Porrino succeeds former Chief Justice Deborah Poritz, who chaired the commission from 2018-23.

The Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission was created by statute in 2009 to examine racial and ethnic disparities in the state’s criminal justice system. It is a 13-member commission comprised of designees of prosecutors and law enforcement, the Attorney General’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office, and the judiciary, as well as public members appointed by the governor and the Legislature. However, the commission did not officially convene until Gov. Murphy initiated the appointment process in 2018.

The commission has since released three reports recommending revisions to laws governing the criminal justice system.

Murphy praised both Porrino and Poritz.

“Chief Justice Poritz brought a unique credibility to the role, having viewed the criminal justice system from different vantage points as attorney general and chief justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court,” he said. “Under her leadership, the commission authored three major reports calling for significant reforms in New Jersey’s sentencing laws, many of which have been enacted in partnership with our Legislature. Chief Justice Poritz’s many chapters of public service to our state have enriched the lives of all of our residents, and I wish her all the best.”

As for Porrino:

“Chris is widely respected throughout the legal world and across the political spectrum,” Murphy said. “During his time as attorney general and chief counsel to the governor, he played a crucial role in Gov. Christie’s efforts to reform our criminal justice system in partnership with the Legislature and judiciary.

“I know he is exactly the right person to build consensus for reforms that will make our sentencing laws fairer and more equitable.”

At Lowenstein Sandler, Porrino has led the defense of a vast portfolio of clients from Fortune 500 companies, private and public companies, governments, not-for-profits and individuals.

He welcomes the challenge.

“For many years, New Jersey has been a national leader in achieving groundbreaking criminal justice reform,” he said. “I am extraordinarily grateful to Gov. Murphy, Senate President Scutari and Speaker Coughlin for this chance to assist in the reform effort in New Jersey, and I look forward to collaborating, once again, with our executive, legislative and judicial branches of government to continue this vitally important work.”

Poritz said she is proud of her time at the commission — and feels she is leaving it in good hands.

“I am proud that the commission produced three major reports containing members’ unanimous recommendations for criminal justice reform, and I am deeply appreciative of everyone across and outside of government who contributed to this important work,” she said.

“It is time for new leadership to continue the effort to reform our criminal justice system, and I know the commission will be in good hands with Chris Porrino as chair. I wish him and the rest of the commission all the best and am grateful for their willingness to serve.”

Porrino is a graduate of Lehigh University and Seton Hall University School of Law. He recently was selected among the Super 60 of the 2024 ROI Influencers: Power List.