Verniero report clears Murphy transition, has no answer on who hired Alvarez

Julie Daurio, Producer | February 6, 2019 | Politics

The long-anticipated report from former state Supreme Court Justice Peter Verniero fails to answer the question roiling the Select Oversight Committee.

The report offers no answers to the question of who hired Al Alvarez, stating, “We are left to surmise that, similar to his joining the transition office, Mr. Alvarez’s hiring into state service was a foregone conclusion.”

The Murphy administration asked Verniero to review the vetting and hiring of Alvarez, a former transition member who was later hired as chief of staff at the Schools Development Authority.

Katie Brennan, chief of staff to the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, accused Alvarez of raping her in 2017, when Alvarez was a campaign staffer and Brennan was a volunteer. Alvarez has denied the allegation.

No one the Select Oversight Committee has called to testify has admitted to hiring Alvarez or knowing who did.

The report clears Murphy of any involvement in Alvarez’s hiring and does not place blame with anyone on the governor’s transition team or in the administration, instead concluding, “the system failed.”

“Whether the decision not to conduct an investigation was made during the transition period, or after the start of the administration, decision-makers appear to have been acting, with the advice of counsel, under their best judgment and understanding of existing law,” the report states.

The report does suggest the transition office “might have placed too much emphasis” on the fact that prosecutors declined to file charges against Alvarez. “Indeed, there is a distinction between the evidence necessary to pursue a criminal indictment as compared to the lesser standard necessary to satisfy a civil or administrative proceeding,” it states.

The transition team should have taken additional steps, according to the report, including attempting to learn Brennan’s identity as well as specifics about the allegation.

The report also said staffers could have told Murphy about Brennan’s assault allegation, despite testimony from the governor’s chief counsel Matt Platkin citing confidentiality rules as the reason he did not bring the issue to Murphy.

“Knowing what I know now, I wish I was informed earlier by my team about Ms. Brennan’s allegations,” Murphy said in a statement. “As members of my staff have previously testified, they regret not telling me sooner as well. I fully respect the determinations made by two separate law enforcement entities regarding Mr. Alvarez, but once the decision was made to separate him from state government, it should have been handled more swiftly and decisively.

Murphy announced in Oct. 2018 that his administration would retain Verniero and his law firm to conduct a “systematic review of the vetting and hiring practices of the Governor-elect’s transition office.”

The cost of the report has not been disclosed.