O’Toole is front runner in race for Baroni’s Judiciary Committee seat

The expected resignation of State Sen. Bill Baroni (R-Hamilton) to take a post at the Port Authority opens up a seat on the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee.  Last year, when the Senate expanded the panel from eleven to thirteen members, Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean, Jr. (R-Westfield) gave the slot to Christopher Bateman (R-Branchburg).  That put Kean in the uncomfortable position of passing over Kevin O’Toole (R-Cedar Grove), the Essex County Republican Chairman and the Chairman of the GOP County Chairmen, for the second time that year —  Kean picked Anthony Bucco (R-Boonton) to serve as the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee after Leonard Lance resigned to take his seat in Congress.  O’Toole is now the favorite to get Baroni’s Judiciary seat at a time when a Democratic-controlled Senate must confirm nominations made by a Republican governor.

The Judiciary Committee was expanded so that then-Senate President Richard Codey (D-Roseland) could put Brian Stack (D-Union City) a seat.  That investment didn’t exactly work out for Codey; Stack endorsed Stephen Sweeney (D-West Deptford) in the race for Senate President.

Nearly one-third of the Senate sits on the Judiciary Committee, but Baroni was the southernmost member of the panel.  Now that designation belongs to Robert Smith (D-Piscataway).