The Democratic-controlled state Senate on Thursday voted down Gov. Chris Christie’s nomination of Fredric Knapp as Morris County’s prosecutor.
The 13-24 vote, split along party lines, came less than a week after Christie sidestepped the Senate Judiciary Committee, which never held a confirmation hearing, and appointed Knapp acting prosecutor.
The vote angered the Republican minority, but Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, refused to allow any of the Republicans to question his move.
“The governor bypassed us, so we’re going to give him [Knapp] a vote,” said Sweeney. “The procedure is to respect the Senate.”
The vote was the Senate’s first order of business. At the request of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, the majority voted to remove the nomination from his committee. The Senate, again with Republicans voting in the minority, voted to suspend the rules that normally bar a nomination from being considered by the full Senate within 24 hours of being released by the committee.
The move by the Senate Democrats to reject the nomination was considered to be direct response to Christie, who, using his executive authority, sidestepped the Judiciary Committee and appointed Knapp as acting prosecutor on Dec. 14.
Knapp was nominated to the position in June, but a confirmation hearing was never scheduled.
Knapp, a Republican who specialized in labor law, had been with Florham Park’s Knapp, Trimboli & Prusinowski. He replaced Democrat Robert Bianchi, a holdover whose term expired in June.
At Christie’s request, Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa first named Knapp an assistant attorney general and then had him sworn in as acting prosecutor.
Christie, at a news conference in Sea Bright, told reporters who decided to make the move because having Bianchi stay in office as a holdover was hurting “the morale in the office.”
“The Senate cannot continue to be able, especially in sensitive law enforcement positions, to just sit in the corner and hold their breath because they lost the election in 2009,” Christie said.
Opposition to Knapp’s nomination was being led by Sen. Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, a member of the Judiciary Committee.
Lesniak has said he opposed the nomination because of Knapp’s background as a labor attorney, which he contrasted to Bianchi’s background as a criminal lawyer.
“I’m not going to support someone with virtually no credentials over someone who has a sterling record,” Lesniak told the Star-Ledger of Newark earlier this month.
Bianchi has not given up the chance to hold onto his office.
On Monday, he filed a complaint in Mercer County Superior Court seeking to void Knapp’s appointment. He alleges that Christie’s move to bypass the Senate was unconstitutional.
However, Mercer County Assignment Judge Mary Jacobson told Bianchi he would have to seek relief in the Appellate Division.
Knapp did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Christie, says Knapp will remain on the job as acting prosecutor and that Christie will nominate him again for the position.
“The Senate majority has now confirmed what we already knew – that they have made the confirmation process a mockery,” Drewniak said in a statement. “Today was just another example of partisan theater, courtesy of the Senate Democrats.”