Lawmakers vote to set up panel on handling of assault claim
TRENTON — New Jersey's Legislature voted to set up a bipartisan committee Monday to investigate Gov. Phil Murphy administration's handling of a sexual assault allegation within state government.
The Democrat-controlled Assembly voted 74-0 with one member not voting, and the Senate voted 37-0 to create the 15-member Joint Committee on Oversight.
Murphy had previously ordered an investigation into the handling of allegations against Albert Alvarez.
Asked for his reaction to the panel at a separate news conference, he said he would let the Legislature, which is controlled by fellow Democrats, speak for itself and that he trusts the process his administration set up.
The committee will have subpoena power, but lawmakers said they expect Murphy's administration will cooperate. Each subpoena would require approval from the committee's co-chairmen, co-vice chairmen as well as the Senate President and assembly Speaker.
The probe goes back to earlier this month when Alvarez resigned as the Schools Development Authority's chief of staff as the Wall Street Journal began asking about allegations of his involvement in a sexual assault.
He has denied any wrongdoing.
Katie Brennan, chief of staff at the state's housing agency, alleges Alvarez sexually assaulted her in April 2017 when they were both working to help get Murphy elected. She said she pursued charges with prosecutors and recourse within the administration without success.
The Associated Press does not typically identify people alleging sexual assault without their consent. Brennan came forward publicly to the Journal and subsequent statements this month.
Murphy launched an investigation of hiring practices after Brennan came forward, tapping former New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Peter Verniero to head the probe.
Murphy has said he was not made aware of the specific allegations until earlier this month when Alvarez resigned, but added he wishes he wasn't hired.
The state attorney general's office earlier announced it was asking the Middlesex County prosecutor to reopen an investigation into the allegation.
The case was initially investigated by the Hudson County prosecutor's office in 2017, which closed it without filing any charges.
The case was moved because Hudson County prosecutor, Esther Suarez, knows both Brennan and Alvarez. The attorney general's office has said she was not involved in the case, but moved the case out of "an abundance of caution."
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