TRENTON — Following the state Senate’s vote to confirm ELEC commissioner Walter Timpone as the state’s newest Supreme Court justice, one Bergen Democrat is calling the centrist Democrat ethically compromised for his involvement in an investigation into Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo. Saying that Timpone “disrespectfully” failed to respond to her inquiries about his self-recusal in that investigation, Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37) said Timpone will be “coming on under a cloud.”
Timpone claimed to have recused himself from voting to investigate DiVincenzo because he received a personal favor from the influential Essex Democrat when DiVincenzo found Timpone’s nephew a job back in 2003. But Weinberg cited minutes from ELEC that she said show the then-commissioner voting participating in the initial vote to mount the investigation.
“He told me on the phone that he recused himself from the moment he heard the name of the County Executive,” Winberg said of her conversations with Timpone leading up to Monday’s Senate 31-1 Senate vote, where she was the sole outlier. “That is not true. He did not recuse himself, and in fact, according to the minutes I was able to review at the last minute, he actually voted after he got an ethics commission reading saying that he shouldn’t vote.
“If that’s what he was going to do to make it onto the Supreme Court, I really have difficulty with what kind of Supreme Court justice he is going to be. He coming on under a cloud,” she continued. “The fact that I’ve been trying since Friday, through the governor’s office, to meet with him face to face so I can get this clarified, and I did not even get the courtesy of a reply, leads me to believe that I am right and they didn’t want him to meet with me.
“Not only was I treated disrespectfully, but we put on the Supreme Court a man who is coming on with a large cloud over his head.”
A judge ruled issued a ruling favorable to DiVincenzo hours before the Senate voted and effectively ended the investigation into his alleged use of campaign funds for a personal trip to Puerto Rico. ELEC may appeal that ruling. The Senate vote came as Senator Peter Barnes (D-18) saw a hurried affirmative vote for his own judgeship on the Superior Court. Barnes would not have been eligible for a judge’s pension if his approval had been delayed for one more day.
Weinberg’s close ally, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), pointed to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s unanimous decision to approve Timpone’s nomination when asked about any lingering suspicions of wrongdoing and said he could not speak to Weinberg’s experience. Sweeney appeared in Weinberg’s place at that Judiciary Committee hearing.
“She told me that she had a conversation with Mr. Timpone,” Sweeney said. “Loretta’s my partner, so I’m not going to say what she’s telling me isn’t true. I just wasn’t part of the conversation.”
The Senate President did, however, take the opportunity to jab at Governor Chris Christie for not promptly nominating a successor for Timpone at ELEC.
“It’s not the commissioner’s fault. It’s not the legislature’s fault at this point, because he hasn’t given us nominees. If he was giving us nominees and we were refusing to get them up that would be one thing, but we haven’t been given the nominees.”