N.J. lawmakers argue role of AG is ‘important’ one, needs to be elected

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Jun 15, 2015

TRENTON, N.J. (Legal Newsline) - Two New Jersey lawmakers continue to push for an elected attorney general.


On Thursday, members of the state Senate’s State Government, Wagering Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee met and discussed two bills -- SCR 71 and SCR 170 -- that would change how New Jersey’s top lawyer is selected.


Currently, the attorney general and all 21 county prosecutors are selected by the governor, and then approved by the state Senate.

In fact, New Jersey is just one of five states that still appoints its attorney general. In Maine, state lawmakers elect the attorney general. In Tennessee, the attorney general is selected by its highest court. In more than 40 other states, the position is elected by the people.


Sens. Peter Barnes and Raymond Lesniak, both Democrats, would like to see that change.


At the committee meeting last week, Barnes, who serves on the panel, argued that electing an attorney general would give the position more backbone and stability.


“It’s such an important job and the person who holds the position, if they want to, can really expand the role in a much more positive way,” Barnes said, according to The Record in North Jersey.


Barnes introduced SCR 71 last year, asking voters to amend the state constitution to change the selection process. So far, no action has been taken on the legislation.


Lesniak introduced a similar bill -- SCR 170 -- earlier this month.


Neither bill was voted on during Thursday’s meeting.


One state newspaper already is backing the lawmakers’ call for change.


Last month, the Asbury Park Press wrote in an editorial that the state’s governors have shown, time and again, they cannot handle the responsibility that comes with appointing such a position.


“Instead, they put in place allies who won’t aggressively turn their efforts against anyone or anything that might embarrass the governor’s party,” the editorial states.


The newspaper contends the current attorney general, John Hoffman, who has been acting attorney general since 2013, has “done the governor’s bidding time and time again.”


Hoffman took over after Gov. Chris Christie appointed Attorney General Jeff Chiesa to fill the late Frank Lautenberg’s U.S. Senate seat.


From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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