Robert Hanna
Robert Hanna ()

The New Jersey Senate on Monday confirmed seven nominees to the Superior Court, including Robert Hanna, whose long-pending state Supreme Court candidacy expires this month for lack of advice and consent.

The nominees were vetted earlier in the day in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Hanna, an independent from Morris County, faced some grilling by Democrats.

Sen. Nia Gill, D-Essex, the vice chairwoman of the Judiciary Committee, asked that his nomination be delayed pending the outcome of an ongoing discrimination claim against him. A deputy attorney general, Anna Lascurain, alleges Hanna replaced her without warning in 2011 as head of the Attorney General’s Office Securities Fraud Unit and that she was “targeted for elimination” because she is Hispanic.

Hanna, the current president of the Board of Public Utilities, said Lascurain’s claims are meritless. “I do not discriminate,” he said.

Gill wasn’t satisfied. The suit “brings into question the impartiality and fairness of someone we’re putting on the bench,” she said.

Sen. Nellie Pou, D-Passaic, asked Hanna why he replaced Lascurain. “I was dissatisfied with the performance of the plaintiff,” Hanna replied.

Gill said she was “appalled” that the committee would vote on a nominee who has a discrimination and retaliation claim pending against him.

Gill and Sens. Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, and Loretta Weinberg, D- Bergen, voted against the nomination. Pou and Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, the committee chairman, abstained.

No mention was made of Hanna’s failed nomination to the Supreme Court. Scutari did ask Hanna—a close ally of Gov. Chris Christie—whether he knew of plans by certain members of the administration and the Port Authority of New York-New Jersey to close down approach lanes to the George Washington Bridge in September. Hanna said no.

Hanna’s nomination passed the Senate in a 25-7 vote.

Two other nominees—Bruce Kaplan, a former Middlesex County prosecutor, and John Matheussen, executive director of the Delaware River Port Authority—also drew dissent in the committee hearing.

Pou and Gill voted against Kaplan, a Democrat, in large part because of his response to allegations that an assistant prosecutor, Manuel Sameiro, made a racial slur to two colleagues. Kaplan—the Middlesex County prosecutor from 2002 until 2013, when he resigned to become counsel to the director of the Division of Law—said he removed Sameiro from a supervisory role. Gill and Pou said he should have been fired.

Kaplan also was questioned about his decision to allow the State Police to investigate corruption allegations against Middlesex County Sheriff Joe Spicuzzo, who is serving a 9-year prison sentence. Kaplan said it was routine for state law enforcement to move in on corruption investigations.

Kaplan’s nomination passed the Senate in a 26-7 vote. Sen. Michael Doherty, R-Morris, along with Lesniak and Weinberg, abstained.

Doherty and Sen. Gerald Cardinale, R-Bergen, voted against Matheussen, a fellow Republican and former state senator from Gloucester County.

Both said they were concerned about a 2012 report by state Comptroller Matthew Boxer that said the Delaware River Port Authority was often treated like a “personal ATM” by its commissioners, vendors and community organizations. Cardinale noted the DRPA is currently the target of a federal criminal investigation, although there is nothing to indicate that Matheussen himself is being investigated.

His nomination passed the Senate in a 29-7 vote.

Approved without opposition were the other four nominees:

• Michael Cresitello Jr. is with Warren’s DiFrancesco, Bateman, Coley, Yospin, Kunzman, Davis, Lehrer & Flaum, where he concentrates in land use, zoning, government and municipal law. He is the municipal prosecutor for Randolph, the planning board attorney for Old Bridge, Clark and Berkeley Heights, and the borough attorney for Middlesex. He is a 1994 graduate of the Quinnipiac University School of Law and a 1989 graduate of the University of Scranton.

• Timothy Lydon, a Democrat from Middlesex County, has been executive director of the Senate Democratic Office since November 2012. He was deputy director for nearly two years before that, and served as the office’s general counsel from 2002 through 2008, except for a brief stint in 2007, during which he was an associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in New York.

Lydon was Gov. Jon Corzine’s director of cabinet affairs from June 2009 to April 2010 and, for eight months before that, was chief of staff to U.S. Rep. John Adler. He began his legal career as an associate at Debevoise & Plimpton in New York. He graduated from Gettysburg College in 1995 and from Georgetown University Law Center in 2000.

• Marcia Silva, a Republican from Middlesex County, has been a solo in East Brunswick since August 2010. She is a general practitioner, public defender for South River and alternate public defender for South Plainfield.

Before that, she spent seven years as an assistant in the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, where she tried 28 matters, including murder cases, and argued State v. Elders, in which the Supreme Court held in 2007 that disabled vehicles are subject to the “reasonable and articulable suspicion” standard, just like those involved in traffic stops.

From September 2000 to June 2003, Silva was a litigation associate at Windels Marx Lane & Mittendorf in New Brunswick. She graduated from Seton Hall University in 1996 and from New York Law School in 1999.

• Peter Tober, a Republican from Somerset County, has been the executive director of the New Jersey State Ethics Commission since February 2011. He had a seat on the commission before resigning in February 2010 to serve as special counsel to Christie. He spent a year in that post.

Tober was in private practice for eight years in commercial litigation and other areas—first at Kelly & Brennan in Spring Lake Heights and then at Shain, Schaffer & Rafanello in Bernardsville. He was senior assistant counsel to Gov. Christine Whitman from January 1997 to December 2001, and started his legal career with a four-year stint at Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer in Woodbridge beginning in 1992. He graduated from Cornell University in 1989 and from Hofstra University School of Law in 1992, and is now an adjunct professor at Seton Hall University.