Just a month and a half ago, the re-nomination of Bergen Prosecutor John Molinelli to another five year term looked to be in jeopardy.
The revelation that he had accompanied outgoing state Sen. Joseph Coniglio on a trip to Italy while the Senator was under federal investigation raised doubts among top Democratic officials whether he should be reconfirmed. Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Henry McNamara and Democratic Sen. Loretta Weinberg had already exercised senatorial courtesy for different reasons, refusing to sign off on Molinelli’s nomination.
But today, the prospect of Molinelli securing another term looks much more likely, even if he has several more political obstacles to overcome.
On Friday, Weinberg announced that she would let the nomination move forward. She had blocked it after receiving an anonymous letter accusing Molinelli of using his office’s resources to conduct opposition research against the 37th district Democrats on behalf of Bergen County Democratic Chairman Joe Ferriero, with whom they’re warring. That leaves McNamara, who has been holding up the nomination since June in order to force Gov. Corzine to start filling the ten vacant Bergen County superior court judicial seats, as the next barrier — but he’s set to retire next month.
The seven state Senators who represent Bergen County have been meeting to come up with a package of judicial nominations to fill those vacancies, and Corzine is set to start announcing some appointments soon, though it’s unclear whether the governor will try to fill all 10 slots immediately.
McNamara had been mired in a dispute with fellow Republican Sen. Gerald Cardinale over his pick of Lyndhurst lawyer James Guida for a Superior Court judgeship. Cardinale wanted someone else for the seat who he would not name, but the two have apparently hammered out a deal. Sources close to both Senators say that both Guida and Cardinale’s picks will be nominated.
Cardinale, who’s on vacation, could not be reached for comment. McNamara would not say whether he and Cardinale had reached an understanding.
“I’m leaving the senate on January 7th anyway, so I’m sure it will resolve itself in time,” said McNamara.
If McNamara does relent before the end of his term, Molinelli’s confirmation may hinge on a review of his trip to Italy with Conilgio by the Attorney General’s office. David Wald, a spokesman for the Attorney General Anne Milgram, offered no comment. Short of a scathing review from that office, Corzine will keep Molinelli as the nominee.
If and when Molinelli does reach the Senate Judiciary Committee, he’s likely to face tough questions about his trip with Coniglio.
“I want to hear his explanation as to why he would go on a trip with someone who was at least a target of a federal investigation involving possible corruption, and how that effects peoples’ perception of his impartiality and pursuit of the prosecution of criminals,” said state Sen. John Adler, the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman.
Cardinale, who also sits on the committee, had previously expressed concern about Molinelli’s trip with Coniglio, but is said to be likely to vote in favor of confirming him.
Molinelli could not be reached for comment.