POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Murphy legal team testifies on handling of alleged sexual assault

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

Parimal Garg is a deputy chief counsel to the governor. He told the Select Oversight Committee that at the Inaugural Ball last year Katie Brennan told him of serious misconduct by a Murphy administration official but wouldn’t say what it was. Then in March she finally told Garg and his boss, chief counsel Matt Platkin, that she had been raped by Al Alvarez. Committee lawyer Michael Critchley honed in on that.

“Either of you did not say we should take some steps, beyond just saying, ‘OK, let’s wait to see what happens?'” Critchley asked.

“Both of us felt that we should respect her wishes and her decision not to come forward,” Garg replied.

“I understand you respecting her wishes, but as a public official, as a government official, when you have someone you believe, who is holding a high-ranking position, telling you that there’s serious wrongdoing involving a senior administration official, you have to make judgment calls. Don’t we, as lawyers? And when you are a lawyer, chief deputy counsel to the governor, when you have these clauses coming together, doesn’t your judgment tell you, we better take some action on this and follow up?” Critchley asked.

“We didn’t have any specifics as to what that serious wrongdoing might entail,” Garg said.

“I know, that’s the problem. You have to find out because you have explosive words, serious wrongdoing,” Critchley said.

Critchley pressed him on why they didn’t tell the governor.

“Do you think, based upon your position as deputy chief counsel, that when you found out, and Matt Platkin found out, in March 2018 that the governor has a legitimate need to know that a senior official in the administration had accused another senior administration official of rape? Do you think he had a legitimate need to know?” asked Critchley.

“I don’t report directly to the governor, so I don’t believe that was my call to make,” Garg said.

“I’m asking you, do you think he had a legitimate need to know that a member of his administration had been accused of rape by another member of the administration?” Critchley asked.

“I can’t speculate on that without knowing all the specific information,” Garg said.

Then Brennan sent an email to the governor about a sensitive matter, she said. Murphy forwarded it to Platkin and campaign attorney Jonathon Berkon, and those two decided it was time for Alvarez to leave state government.

Committee co-chair Loretta Weinberg was skeptical.

“So there are several people, these two people if not more, who were discussing a rape allegation, and the only one that it seems to be kept confidential from in terms of what’s going on, is actually the victim,” Weinberg said.

Co-chair Eliana Pintor Marin asked Berkon about not informing the governor.

“You didn’t think it was responsible of you, as an attorney, to tell the governor that this was going on under his administration, and that possibly could cause problems?” Pintor Marin asked.

“I did not feel it was my place to insert myself and inform the governor, but to the extent that that communication needed to happen, that that would have happened on the administration side,” Berkon replied.

Alvarez has denied the allegation against him. He was eventually allowed to resign in October.

Sen. Sandra Cunningham invoked the Me Too movement and expressed frustration at how lives on both sides are being affected.

“It’s just very difficult for me to understand that because of the severity of the allegations, that you, as the attorney, was brought into this and felt no other responsibility other than to say I recommend, or I think, that Mr. Alvarez should be terminated. It seems to me that as an attorney you would have a greater responsibility here,” Cunningham said.

Murphy’s transition director Jose Lozano also testified. He had heard about an allegation against Alvarez, but Brennan was still anonymous at that point. He was asked why he still didn’t conduct an investigation.

“It’s difficult to do an investigation when you don’t have an accuser,” Lozano said.

Gov. Phil Murphy was asked if he any comment Tuesday.

“I have no further comment on the Brennan hearings. I’ve said everything that I can say. We’re cooperating as long as these are not political,” Murphy said.

The committee is wrestling with the issues raised by the Brennan case. On Thursday, chief of staff Pete Cammarano is scheduled to resume his testimony and chief counsel Matt Platkin testimony has been pushed off to a later date.