LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

Prosecutor at center of Brennan email controversy speaks

BY David Cruz, Senior Correspondent |

Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez says it was at 15 Fox Place, an exclusive dining club in Jersey City, where she first met Katie Brennan. It was August 2018, months after the prosecutor’s office had decided not to bring charges against Al Alvarez, who was accused by Brennan of sexual assault. It was a group of friends, some familiar, some not, enjoying a sumptuous meal and casual conversation.

“She had opportunity to talk to me, and I would have, very much, very much, wished, would have liked, for her to have grabbed me and said ‘Hey Esther, maybe not right now, maybe tomorrow, can we talk? I’ve had a problem with your office. I felt very dissatisfied, I’m very upset about something.’ First of all, you’re a friend of a friend, I’d absolutely do that. I text and talk to victims and families of victims. I absolutely would have done that. There’s no reason in the world why I never would have done that. Of course I would have. She didn’t bring it up to me. Why? Why? Because I think about it all the time. I wish she had. I don’t say it to avoid everything that had happened. I say it because if she was upset, I would like to have helped,” Suarez said.

Suarez has come under scrutiny for how her office handled the Brennan investigation, a seven month process that ended in no charges and had conspiracy theorists and critics of the governor wondering if the fix was in, finding it hard to believe that one future member of the Murphy administration, alleging sexual assault against another future member of the Murphy administration would not be mentioned to a prosecutor who was on a short list for attorney general with that same administration.

We asked Suarez with all of those things, why people would find that hard to believe?

“I can understand what you’re saying, but I think I’d like for you to take the perspective of the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, how busy an office it is,” she said. “The Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office investigates every single sexual assault in the county, not the local police departments, not the state police, not anyone, only the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office. We’re busier than just about any other prosecutor’s office in that sense. So, can I understand their perspective when they say that? Well, I suppose I can, but can you understand my perspective when I tell you that there’s a chain of command. And there are certain cases that could come to my attention and would come to my attention. Under normal circumstances this case never would have come to my attention, and the fact that — I don’t think these people were as high-profile as everybody is giving them credit for. Let me say that again. I think people are saying they’re high profile now. I don’t think they were as high profile as they are now, at that time. They certainly weren’t back in 2017, at least not to my office, and I would dare say that there were people in my office that just weren’t savvy enough to know that it even mattered.”

But Katie Brennan’s attorney, Alan Zegas, says he has copies of emails from Maria Dargan, an investigator with the Prosecutor’s Special Victims Unit, addressed to Suarez, in which she details the charges made by Brennan and mentions her role in the Murphy campaign. The committee investigating the aftermath of the Brennan allegations says they want to see those emails. Suarez says that if there were any emails — and she’s not confirming or denying that there were — she couldn’t turn them over even if she wanted to.

“Nobody brought this to my attention, at that time, or at any point, prior to The Wall Street Journal contacting me,” Suarez said. “Nobody brought it to my attention. I was not aware of it until The Wall Street Journal contacted me.”

But Suarez saves her harshest allegation for those who suggest she had a close personal relationship with Al Alvarez.

“It’s offensive. And the reason why I find it so offensive is that someone with the last name of Suarez. To allege that I could possibly have such a close relationship with someone with the last name of Alvarez smacks of racism,” she said.

The committee meets again Friday. What impact Suarez’s statements Thursday will have on their work is unclear. But they could subpoena her to testify, and they could subpoena the reported emails. Her response to that possibility is that it’s all up to the attorney general.