Untouchables Group Says AG Pick Doesn't Show Corruption Fighting Commitment
Posted on Thu, Jan. 12, 2006
Mixed reviews greet pick for A.G.Zulima Farber, a former state public advocate, won praise for her acumen. Critics questioned her experience.By Jennifer Moroz and Kaitlin GurneyInquirer Trenton Bureau
TRENTON - Gov.-elect Jon S. Corzine made what is widely considered the defining appointment of his fledgling administration yesterday, naming former state Public Advocate Zulima Farber his attorney general.
If her nomination is confirmed by the Senate, Farber, 61, a partner in a prominent New Jersey law firm, will get one of the state's most powerful posts, leading the sprawling agency in charge of statewide law enforcement. As chief of the Department of Law and Public Safety, she would oversee 10 divisions, including state police, four independent agencies, 9,600 employees, and an annual budget of nearly $1 billion.
Latino leaders praised the selection of the Cuban-born Farber, who would become New Jersey's first Hispanic attorney general. Friends and colleagues, too, voiced their support for a lawyer they say is smart, honest, aggressive and likable.
But critics quietly questioned whether Farber has the record or skills to effectively lead the attack on public corruption that Corzine has said will be a cornerstone of his administration - and that many say is needed to restore public confidence in the Attorney General's Office.
Attorney General Peter C. Harvey has come under fire - he says unfairly - for his department's weak reputation on corruption prosecutions.
Farber said she was "honored and humbled" by the nomination and pledged that policing government would be a "top priority."
"I'm very grateful to the governor for placing his confidence in me," she said.
Farber already has a long history with the state, including a failed bid for a seat on the Supreme Court.
A graduate of Rutgers Law School, Farber served as assistant prosecutor in Bergen County and as assistant counsel to Gov. Brendan Byrne and as assistant prosecutor in Bergen County before joining the Lowenstein Sandler law firm in Roseland, where she rose to partner in 1986.
Between 1992 and 1994, she served under Gov. Jim Florio as public advocate, a role designed to provide a voice for consumers and minorities.
In 2003, Farber appeared poised to become the state's first Hispanic Supreme Court justice, but Gov. Jim McGreevey withdrew his support when he learned that a bench warrant had been issued after Farber, who has a history of driving violations, failed to respond to a traffic citation. He instead nominated John E. Wallace Jr., an appellate judge from Gloucester County. The move infuriated Latino leaders, who yesterday rejoiced.
"Today is a celebration," said Martin Perez, president of the Latino Leadership Association of New Jersey. "Zulima is a legal professional who has the respect not just of Latinos but of the whole legal community of New Jersey... . This is a vindication because the past administration failed to treat her with the respect and dignity she deserved."
Republican lobbyist Alan Marcus called Farber "the ultimate diversity appointment," but questioned whether she was in the right job.
He wondered why Corzine had not chosen Stuart Rabner, a federal prosecutor with a long corruption-busting record. The governor-elect instead named Rabner his chief counsel.
"I would say that given New Jersey's well-established national reputation for being the most corrupt state in the country, Gov. Corzine should have appointed someone who has significant corruption-fighting experience," said Carl Mayer, a Princeton lawyer and good-government activist who has tussled with Corzine before. "It would have been more logical to appoint his own counsel."
Christopher Christie, U.S. attorney for New Jersey, said he had recommended Rabner, his top criminal prosecutor, to Corzine, and was surprised that his deputy ended up in the "political" chief counsel role.
Of Corzine's choice for attorney general, Christie said: "I judge people when I meet them - and I've only met Zulima a couple of times."
John Degnan, who was attorney general under Byrne and helped Corzine in the selection process, said Corzine originally had looked at 20 candidates and interviewed six or seven for a job he considered "if not his most important appointment, then one of the two or three most important."
Corzine "told me the person has to be an excellent lawyer with good administrative skills and unquestionable integrity," Degnan said. "Some of the candidates were stronger on law enforcement... but the A.G.'s office is more than just criminal justice."
Bob Del Tufo, a former attorney general who served with Farber on Corzine's ethics advisory panel, called her a "very astute and honorable person" and "a seasoned veteran of the law."
With the help of a deputy with a strong law enforcement background to head the Division of Criminal Justice, "she should be fine," he said.
Several lawmakers reserved judgment, saying they awaited the answers Farber would provide during her confirmation hearings.
"The most important thing the next A.G. can do is resuscitate the long-standing tradition that the New Jersey attorney general pays attention to ethics and corruption," said Assemblyman Bill Baroni (R., Mercer).
Sen. John Adler (D., Camden), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he was confident the panel "will engage in a full examination of Zulima Farber's credentials."
"The committee members look forward to Ms. Farber providing her priorities and goals for fighting public corruption, protecting us from terrorists and ensuring the safety of our children," Adler said in a statement.
Farber said that her plans were "very general at this point," but that she wanted to review whether the department could be more cost-efficient.
And, she said, "I know that public corruption has been an issue in New Jersey and that the people rightly care very much about it. I plan to review the work specifically of the Division of Criminal Justice and take action. It is an important issue, and as chief law enforcement officer, it must be a top priority."
Home:North Bergen, N.J.
Occupation: Law partner at Lowenstein Sandler of Roseland, N.J., since 1986.
Education: Bachelor's and master's degrees from what is now Montclair State University. Law degree from Rutgers University Law School in Newark.
Career highlights: Assistant counsel to Gov. Brendan Byrne, 1978-81. Public advocate and public defender in the cabinet of Gov. James J. Florio, 1992-94.
Family: Divorced. No children.
SOURCE: Associated Press
Contact staff writer Jennifer Moroz at 609-989-8990 or email@example.com.
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