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Statement of Acting Governor Donald T. DiFrancesco
Concerning Supreme Court Justice Peter Verniero
April 5, 2001

The foundation of our democracy is respect for the law and there is no higher law of this land than our Constitution. Our Constitution very clearly prescribes that the Senate shall have the right to exercise advice and consent concerning appointees to various state positions including nominees to the State Supreme Court.

For those of us who have been honored to serve in the State Senate, we believe that it is not just our right, but our responsibility to review thoroughly the nominations submitted for our consideration. As Senators, we have the responsibility to determine if a nominee is not only qualified, but has conducted him or herself in a manner reflective of the high office to which they have been nominated.

Four months ago, I directed the Senate Judiciary Committee to initiate a review of the circumstances and documents available concerning racial profiling. As part of that review they requested and with my consent retained Michael Chertoff as a special counsel for the committee. Mr. Chertoff's credentials are well known and his record speaks for itself. The committee examined 100,000 pages of documents, interviewed dozens of people, and conducted lengthy public hearings. By almost any measure, they have been very thorough. I want to thank the members of the committee for their hard work.

Yesterday, the members of that committee, based on the findings of their review, called for the resignation of Supreme Court Justice Peter Verniero. I know that they did not come to this conclusion lightly. This is a very serious matter and one that deserves and requires very serious and careful consideration.

Like many, I have followed this process through press accounts and news stories. But, I've also had the benefit of discussing the issue directly with the committee members and have spent the past few days reviewing this matter.

Having done so, I come to the conclusion that even if we give Justice Verniero every benefit of doubt, it is still clear that his original testimony withheld or misrepresented important information thereby misleading members of the State Senate.

Every nominee presented to the State Senate has an obligation to be completely forthright and open. Preserving the integrity of the process demands strict adherence to this. When a nominee fails to do so, he not only demeans himself, but the process, its integrity and, perhaps most importantly, public confidence in the institutions of our government. We cannot allow that to happen.

Justice Verniero has a long history in state government. He was a Chief Counsel, a Chief of Staff, and an Attorney General. These positions gave him broad experience with the confirmation process and the requirement that nominees be forthright, credible, and sincere. These positions gave him a deep understanding of the need to honor and protect the integrity of the process.

In this case I believe that the integrity of the process was violated and that Senators acted on the nomination without certain facts and information material to their deliberations. Accordingly, I have called Justice Verniero and asked for his resignation.

Clearly, if the information known now about the status of the inquiry into racial profiling from 1994 to 1999 were known then, many Senators, including me, would not have supported the Verniero nomination.

The record indicates that Justice Verniero knew, or at least should have known, that racial profiling was real, not imagined, long before he acknowledged it. He was privy to statistical data dating back as early as 1994.

It indicates that he withheld information relevant to profiling from the Justice Department. And it clearly demonstrates that he was less than forthright and open with the Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearings.

For example, when asked during his confirmation by Senator Zane about the Justice Department's investigation, Justice Verniero did not disclose that he had already received a letter from them indicating that they had concluded their review and planned to file a civil rights suit. Instead, he characterized their actions as only a procedural step.

If Justice Verniero does not resign, I will ask my colleagues in the Senate to consider a resolution of censure. As the Senate President, I have an obligation to protect the institution and our role in the nominating process. It is absolutely appropriate for the Senate to condemn a nominee who violates our trust by providing anything less that full and complete testimony. This action is intended to send a message to Justice Verniero and to any future nominee who would consider anything less than absolute forthrightness.

This action does not interfere with, preclude or rule out any additional actions such as impeachment. A resolution of censure is meant only to protect the institutional integrity of the Senate as it relates to our role in the appointments process.

Let me go still further by saying that if I am Governor and Justice Verniero becomes eligible for lifetime tenure, I will not reappoint Justice Verniero to the Supreme Court.

Some have called from Justice Verniero's impeachment. Again, we must turn to our constitution and recognize that impeachment is a question for the General Assembly. Only the Assembly is vested with the constitutional authority to determine if Justice Verniero's conduct meets the legal standards required in order to pass articles of impeachment. If they decide that it does, I may be called upon to preside over a trial in the Senate, serve as a trier of fact, and render judgment on the specific charges. This process is set up to ensure fairness and prevent any one body from serving as both judge and jury. Accordingly, to preserve the integrity of that process, I will refrain from any additional comment on impeachment until the Assembly takes whatever action they deem appropriate.

But, when we discuss a member of the judiciary, and particularly a member of the Supreme Court, we should expect not just compliance with the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law, the spirit of the institutions and the intent of our constitution.

This is a very sad and unfortunate day for New Jersey. I take no pleasure in seeking Justice Verniero's resignation. However, we have at stake the integrity of our government and the confidence of our citizens. Our Supreme Court has a well-deserved reputation for excellence. As long as Justice Verniero sits on that court, it will enjoy a reputation less than it is worthy of.

Citizens look to our courts as the final arbiter of fact and fairness. When a nominee fails to be completely forthright and open with the Senate, that undermines confidence in the process. When a member of the Supreme Court is viewed as having exercised his authority as Attorney General in a way that ignored or concealed certain facts, that undermines confidence in him. When those facts demonstrate that our citizens are not receiving equal treatment under the law that undermines confidence in our system.

Racial profiling is a blight on this state and on the honest, hard working men and women of law enforcement who have dedicated their lives to protecting us. When I authorized this review by the Senate Judiciary Committee, my hope was that the process would lead us toward steps to eradicate the evils of racial profiling and heal the wounds that it has created. I still hope that.

We've taken a number of steps in that direction already - video camera's in cars, enhanced Trooper training and better data collection - and I want to commend the State Troopers and their leaders for the good work that they've done. But all of us know that more should and must be done. We should not rest until we are certain that racial profiling has been erased.

I look forward to receiving what I consider to be the most important aspect of the Judiciary Committee's work - their recommendations on additional steps to end racial profiling.

I know that the Legislature's Black and Latino Caucus has proposed legislation to right his wrong and I will consider those recommendations as well. We must all work together to cure this ill. Profiling may be directed at only a few groups, but it affects every one of us. None of us should rest until it has been stopped once and for all.

PO BOX 004
TRENTON, NJ 08625

CONTACT: Tom Wilson/Jayne O'Connor
Steffanie Bell
609-777-2600

RELEASE: April 5, 2001

 

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