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Gov. Orders Attorney General Takeover of Morris Prosecutor's Office

Fredric Knapp, Christie's nominee to replace Robert Bianchi, sworn in as acting county prosecutor.

The state Attorney General's Office took over for the Morris County Prosecutor's Office Friday morning, removing Robert Bianchi as the county's top lawman at the request of the governor.

Gov. Chris Christie requested the move in order "to promote an orderly and speedy transition to Prosecutor (Robert) Bianchi's successor, and to ensure uniform and efficient criminal law enforcement in Morris County," an Attorney General's Office spokesman said.

Fredric Knapp, a Florham Park attorney who had been nominated by Christie in June to be the next county prosecutor, but never was considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee, was sworn in as acting county prosecutor on Friday.

Democratic State Sen. Raymond Lesniak, a Bianchi supporter and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the supersession came as a shock, everyone in the prosecutor's office was stunned, and he thought the move was unconstitutional.

The Attorney General's Office said Christie was acting within his powers.

"The Governor has nominated Fredric M. Knapp to be Morris County Prosecutor, and the nominee currently awaits a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee," Attorney General spokesman Leland Moore said.

"In the interim, the Governor has requested that the Attorney General supersede in the best interests of the state. The supersession is taking place today to promote an orderly and speedy transition to Prosecutor Bianchi's successor, and to ensure uniform and efficient criminal law enforcement in Morris County."

Bianchi had been serving as county prosecutor even though his five-year term officially ended June 22. Bianchi recently announced he was assuming the prosecution of two high-profile cases even though he was not sure when he would be replaced. Bianchi had said in June he would work to ensure a smooth transition. An attempt to reach Bianchi for comment on Friday was not immediately successful.

In making the request, Christie "is exercising clear and long-standing statutory authority to take such an action," Moore said.

"Prosecutor Bianchi was sworn-in to a five-year term on June 22, 2007," he said. "His term as Prosecutor expired six months ago. ... the Governor is acting on the basis of long-standing powers granted him by the Legislature, and his action is consistent with all Constitutional and statutory authority."

The Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled to consider dozens of nominees at a meeting on Thursday, but Knapp was not listed on the agenda. State Sen. Nicholas Scutari, the committee's chairman, did not respond to messages before the meeting about what was happening with the nomination.

Christie's deputy press secretary had said the governor wants Knapp to have a fair hearing.

"Since the Governor filed his nomination, it continues to languish in the Senate," Sean Conner, Christie's deputy press secretary, said in an email last week. "The Governor continues to fully support Mr. Knapp and hopes he will receive a fair, open hearing and an up or down vote."

Lesniak said the supersession would be overturned if challenged because the state Constitutition "is clear that county prosecutors serve until their successor is confirmed by the Senate."

"It's clearly unconstitutional and, if challenged in court, it will be overturned," he said.

Lesniak said Bianchi called to tell him what happened.

"Everybody in the office is just stunned," Lesniak said.

While he's only one member of the Judiciary Committee, Lesniak said his recommendation would be for the committee to consider the nomination and vote against it.

Bianchi "is one of the most highly regarded county prosecutors in the state, and one of the few who tries the most difficult cases and is very good at it," Lesniak said. He said county prosecutor is an incredibly important position.

"Mr. Knapp may be a good lawyer, but he certainly doesn't have any criminal law experience to speak of. And certianly in comparison to Prosecutor Bianchi's experience and credentials, he's a lightweight in the criminal justice arena."

Lesniak said there was a supersession in Gloucester County amid concerns with irregularities in the office, but that was not the case here.

"No one could possibly suggest that there's good cause to remove Prosecutor Bianchi from office," he said.

OIN 24 December 14, 2012 at 07:59 PM
I was not particularily in favor of Prosecutor Bianchi when he was first named to the post, However I have come to respect him both professionally and personally. He has done a great job for the people of Morris county. Now we have a new man, that the Governor "shoehorned in through the back door, and I am sure he will bring a lot of expertise in the form of labor negotiations to the ofice. Lord knows we need this to prosecute criminals. Thanks Governor Christie.
joe raich December 14, 2012 at 08:07 PM
It seems that Governor Christie has used powers beyond executive authority .Promoting such despotism will unravel cooperation with the legislature.and destroy Sandy's construction efforts, and the search for federal. His reelection efforts seem vulnerable.
The Stig December 14, 2012 at 08:09 PM
At long last, the governor has finally told the Dems to shove their obstructionism. Bravo.
The Stig December 14, 2012 at 09:28 PM
The state senate had plenty of time to hold a hearing and take an up or down vote. Abdicating one's responsibility does not force others to do the same.
jj schrier December 14, 2012 at 09:37 PM
Well done, Gov. That's what a Governor is supposed to do, not permitting the opposition to fart around with a man's nomination. Holding up Fred Knapp is just political chicanery. I have great respect for Bob Bianchi and he has done an exceedingly effective job in the post; knowing Fred Knapp as I do, he will do no less. Win-win.
clyde donovan December 15, 2012 at 01:09 AM
Good job Governor Christie. You did the right thing.
midnite54 December 15, 2012 at 01:43 AM
bianchi took on the cases that were a no brainer to win. all he was doing was grand standing. his job is that of an adminstrator, not a trial lawyer,that is why he has a staff of proscuters.
stewart resmer December 15, 2012 at 01:26 PM
advise and consent as is long enshrined in our form of governance is not a concept to be out manuevered by an imperious executive in response to a nomination that has not been moved by the legislature, the third branch of government ( the judiciary)has yet to be heard, the stage is set for its constitutional deliberations.
Sherry December 15, 2012 at 03:14 PM
YOU GO GOVENOR CHRISTIE. CHANGE IS GOOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
melikric December 16, 2012 at 03:28 AM
Good riddance
The Stig December 16, 2012 at 06:53 AM
Christie waited long enough for the clowns in Trenton to hold a hearing and vote him up or down. Dems thought they could run out the clock, but the governor showed them that if they won't act, he will. Doing nothing is no longer an option.
Richard J Hutchinson December 16, 2012 at 12:29 PM
Govenor Christie the next County you should look at is Mercer county it's ran in reverse. The entire criminal justice system should be looked at and went over with a fine tooth comb.... you are doing a spectacular job in our state.. thank you very much for all of your hard work and the commitment to our State... would be an absolute honor to meet you one day.. Thank you very much wish you and your family a great Holiday season... Richard
Pat Caserta December 16, 2012 at 05:45 PM
The constitution may say that the prosecutor serves until he is replaced but does it say replaced only by another who is approved by the legislature? Many times outgoing County Prosecutors are replaced by Acting Prosecutors, often someone from the AG's office until the next appointment is confirmed. Bianchi has been great. Yet he was a political appointment and like all other political appointments the process that gave you the job eventually takes it away. And, by the way, criminal trial experience does not necessarily make someone a good prosecutor. It's great when the boss steps up to the plate once in awhile but criminal trial experience is secondary to administrative skill. Knapp can certaiinly be a very good prosecutor; he's got an office full of criminal trial attorneys.
Melissa December 18, 2012 at 12:36 AM
...shows that politics prevail over experience - good attorney, but has no criminal experience - has been a labor & employment attorney for the past 25 plus years --- and was the attorney who represented the county in their labor & employment matters - sad that people are appointed because they are "friends" as opposed to having the required experience... losing faith in the judicial system more and more everyday!
Brian December 18, 2012 at 02:56 AM
the guy has NO criminal experience and has been a labor & employment attorney for the past 25 plus years but he is appointed because he is "friends" with Gov. Christie...

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