Special committee to investigate sexual assault allegation

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

Sen. Loretta Weinberg will chair the special, bipartisan Select Committee on Investigation, tasked specifically with examining Katie Brennan’s allegations of sexual assault against former Murphy administration staffer Albert Alvarez. It’ll also investigate government hiring practices and procedures for responding to allegations of sexual assault, abuse and harassment.

“I think if anything good comes out of Katie Brennan’s awful experience, it will be that New Jersey is a much better state because of the road map that she laid out,” Weinberg said.

Senate President Steve Sweeney created the bipartisan committee, stating, “The account of the assault on Ms. Brennan was heart wrenching and repulsive. And the repeated failures of authorities to hear her voice and respond to her attempts to achieve justice made me frustrated and angry. We need a full accounting of what went wrong and what needs to be done so that sexual survivors are heard …”

That, despite a separate trio of investigations launched Monday by Gov. Phil Murphy, with one headed by former New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Peter Verniero.

“I think these are very meaningful steps that we’re taking right now, so I would hope we don’t get into politics. This is one of these moments where folks can either grandstand or they can call balls and strikes and figure out how we can make New Jersey better for victims of sexual assault,” Murphy said Monday.

Murphy’s office added Tuesday, “While the Governor is aware of actions being taken by the Legislature to review hiring practices and sexual misconduct allegations, he is confident that the three steps being taken by the Administration will significantly help improve our current system.”

“I think this is an important role for the Legislature. The governor has the perfect right to investigate anything he wants to, in his own administration, but I don’t really need Peter Verniero to let us know what went wrong here. I think we already know that. I think what we have to work on is, how we improve the entire system,” Weinberg said.

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin announced he will also appoint members to the Select Committee. Senate members will include Sandra Cunningham, Teresa Ruiz, Fred Madden, Steve Oroho and Kristin Corrado as members. Senate Republicans applauded Sweeney for creating the committee.

Corrado added, “ … For this committee to be truly effective it must have all the necessary powers including subpoena powers. We should also immediately notify all members of the governor’s campaign, transition and administration to preserve all documents, communications, emails, and text messages.”

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick agreed.

“It seems to me that an open hearing of legislators asking questions, with subpoena power, is the appropriate way to deal with the allegations that have been raised,” Bramnick said.

Both the Senate and Assembly must vote to approve the creation of the Select Committee. That vote would also include a declaration of subpoena powers.