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Christopher Christie may have been picked by President Bush to be New Jersey’s next U.S. Attorney, but the debate continues over his qualifications, the criteria for selection and the process itself. On the same day that the White House was firming up its decision to choose Christie, the Association of the Federal Bar of the State of New Jersey was passing a resolution raising the specter of political influence over the office and urging Bush to make the call on merit. The state’s U.S. senators, Democrats Robert Torricelli and Jon Corzine, also received the four-page resolution. The resolution, adopted 6-0 on Sept. 7 by the association’s executive committee, has raised hackles from Christie supporters, who note the 11th-hour timing of the move and who call unfair the resolution’s highly charged language suggesting political partisanship. Christie’s name is not mentioned. While it’s uncertain whether White House counsel reviewed the resolution before going public with Bush’s choice of Christie, it appears to be a case of too little too late. Last Monday a White House assistant counsel phoned Christie at his office at Cranford, N.J.’s Dughi, Hewit & Palatucci to tell him of the president’s intention to nominate him. Torricelli and Corzine, who could block the nomination in the Senate, were also notified Monday. Still, the opposition is unusual for a bar group that has been typically acquiescent in the choice of U.S. Attorney. But Christie is an unusual candidate: a securities and appellate lawyer who also handles regulatory work and lobbying — with no criminal law experience. Not since President Eisenhower named William Tompkins as U.S. Attorney in 1953 has the state had a top federal law enforcement officer who had not previously served as a prosecutor. It’s not clear whether Tompkins handled any criminal cases prior to his appointment. He went on to become an assistant U.S. attorney general in Washington, D.C. Christie’s strength in the pursuit of the post, his political resume, has also been his weakness, as critics say his main credentials are his fund-raising for presidential candidate Bush in 2000, as well as his own contributions to Bush and other Republicans over the years. However, the federal bar lawyers are quick to point out that the resolution, which does not name Christie, is not aimed at him but at the selection process and the criteria for making the choice. Jonathan Goldstein, a former U.S. Attorney who lobbied for passage of the federal bar’s resolution, says, “I want to maintain the independence of this office, and I want it to be independent of any outside influence, and the best way to ensure that independence is to have the U.S. Attorney selected on the basis of merit.” Richard Shapiro, who was a top assistant to Goldstein when he ran the office in the late 1970s, and who is a partner with Goldstein in Newark’s Hellring, Lindeman, Goldstein & Siegal, emphasizes that “the key to the resolution is merit consideration” and not a comment on Christie, adding that he does not know enough about Christie’s legal skills and personal character to make an evaluation. Shapiro, as president of the federal bar association, signed the resolution and wrote the cover letter to the president. Other lawyers, though, say the federal bar group has gone overboard, noting that politics always plays a key role in such a selection. “To quote the French inspector in Casablanca, ‘I’m shocked’ that this is a political decision,” says Barry Evenchick, a former top state prosecutor now with Livingston, N.J.’s Evenchick & Schreiber. Says Evenchick, “I think [the association] absolutely overstated the importance of federal law enforcement experience.” CHRISTIE CRAFTING HIS ADMINISTRATION For his part, Christie, 39, is pushing hard to overcome his experience gap. He has been speaking to current and former federal prosecutors in an effort to line up a veteran team to serve under him should he get the job. Christie, say five sources familiar with the ongoing process, is emphasizing his leadership and managerial skills, as well as his experience as a lawyer for 14 years. Christie, in making new rounds in New Jersey as well as in Washington, D.C., is listening to recommendations of top recruits to bring into the office or to bring back into the office. He is also discussing the retention of those in leadership in the 115-lawyer office. Moreover, he is emphasizing his experience and ethics positions as director of the Morris County Freeholder Board, in particular his efforts to reform the contract-bidding process and his ban on freeholders accepting gifts and junkets. Three sources sympathetic to Christie’s nomination say they believe he is slowly but steadily winning over opponents, both political, including Democrats, as well as legal. Those sources, though, like other federal practitioners less involved in the process, note the obvious: The more Christie looks like the next U.S. Attorney, the less some lawyers are inclined to oppose him, at least publicly. One key player in the drama is former U.S. Attorney Michael Chertoff, who now serves as chief of the Criminal Division in the Justice Department in Washington. Not only will the next U.S. Attorney in Newark be working for him, as do all U.S. Attorneys nationwide, but Chertoff is said to have maintained a keen interest in the New Jersey office he once headed. Chertoff, who has been lobbied by both sides, will have a say in the White House decision, both as a career prosecutor from the state who now heads the Criminal Division, as well as a player in GOP circles. One veteran observer of the federal bar scene suggests, “At the end of the day Michael Chertoff will have significant input on Chris Christie’s candidacy, and some believe [he] will be consulted by Chris Christie on important policy and personnel decisions.” Others, however, note that Bush has made his intention known, speculating that Chertoff may have signed off on the nomination. As for New Jersey’s senators, Torricelli has long ago heard from those who have cautioned that Christie lacks the credentials for the job. THE TIMING Since Christie’s name has been in circulation as a serious candidate for the job since at least early April, some lawyers who do not share the federal bar’s fervor about protecting the integrity of the office have questioned why the resolution was drafted so late in the game. Association President Shapiro and several others in favor of the resolution say that the reality that Christie could actually get the nomination did not sink in until the Law Journal reported on Aug. 13 that Bush intended to select Christie. Prior to that there was another leading candidate, McCarter & English partner Rosemary Alito, the sister of former U.S. Attorney and now 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Samuel Alito Jr. There was also a dark horse, John Peter Suarez, director of the state’s Division of Gaming Enforcement and a former Assistant U.S. Attorney. Alito took herself out of the race last month. She is a member of the executive committee of the federal bar group but recused herself from the vote on the resolution. The Law Journal reported that Christie had raised more than $100,000 for Bush in 2000, and, along with his relatives, had made $101,350 in federal and state contributions since 1997, primarily to Republicans. That included $27,000 since May, of which $13,000 went to Acting Gov. Donald DiFrancesco, who later recommended Christie for the job. Christie was endorsed by most of the state’s GOP congressional members and many state officials and Republican fund-raisers. But many federal bar insiders favored Alito, who is considered a top civil litigator and federal practitioner who concentrates in management-side labor and employment law. Alito, unlike Christie, has not been politically active, raises no funds and makes only modest contributions. She also did not campaign for the post as visibly as Christie did. But she, too, lacks any criminal law experience. Last spring her backers suggested what the Christie supporters are suggesting now — that she commit to bringing into the office a veteran federal prosecution team to overcome her lack of a prosecutorial and/or criminal law background. Two sources who wished not to be identified, in noting the timing of the federal bar’s resolution, point out that while Alito was a candidate the organization could not have approved such a resolution without hurting her chances. Shapiro steadfastly denies that Alito’s candidacy had anything to do with the resolution, saying that such a suggestion is unfair. He says the resolution was under discussion since the Aug. 13 article, saying it took time to get the committee to agree on the language, to then fax the final draft to everyone and to ultimately get all six lawyers together in a conference call to take the vote. “This had nothing to do with helping Rosemary Alito and nothing to do with killing Chris Christie,” he says. The State Bar Association was also asked to consider endorsing essentially the same resolution, but it declined to take a position. The association’s executive committee considered the proposal Sept. 5 and unanimously concluded that the State Bar lacks the ability to comment on the federal selection process. The State Bar, through its judicial and prosecutorial screening committee, does vet state court judge and county prosecutor nominations before the governor sends the name to the state Senate. State Bar President-Elect Richard Badolato says the federal bar association asked the State Bar to consider taking a position. Badolato says the White House asked him if he could “vouch for Christie,” saying he told White House counsel he believed Christie to be “a decent ethical lawyer.” Those supporting the resolution, like federal bar association executive committee member Joseph Hayden Jr., say it’s a “statement of principle … and not a statement on anyone’s credentials.” Some also point to last week’s terrorist attacks and the fact that New Jersey is a major part of the investigation, saying that only the U.S. Attorney himself, and not his first assistant, can make the critical calls on a fast-moving probe. The Twin Towers and Pentagon attacks, meanwhile, will slow the nomination process, as Christie’s FBI background check will undoubtedly be put on hold. Says David Wald, communications director for Sen. Corzine, “No comment, except to say that there’s a lot more on his plate right now.”

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