Saturday, December 20, 2014

Interesting tidbits emerge about Christie's justice nominees

One nominee, Bruce Harris, is a gay black Republican who has told Christie that he will recuse himself if the issue of gay marriage comes before the court because he has advocated for it in the past, Christie said yesterday.

Interesting tidbits emerge about Christie's justice nominees

Gov. Christie and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno introduce New Jersey Supreme Court nominees Phillip H. Kwon, far left, and Bruce A. Harris, far right. (Tim Larsen/Governor´s Office)
Gov. Christie and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno introduce New Jersey Supreme Court nominees Phillip H. Kwon, far left, and Bruce A. Harris, far right. (Tim Larsen/Governor's Office) AP PHOTO / Governor's Office

Updated at 5:31 p.m.

Gov. Christie spent much of yesterday trying to explain his controversial comments about civil rights and gay marriage, which we reported here. In the process, he called a legislator who favors gay marriage "numb nuts" for comparing the gov to segregationist governors.

But lost in all that might have been revelations about his two nominees to the Supreme Court. One, Bruce Harris, is a gay black Republican who has told Christie that he will recuse himself if the issue of gay marriage comes before the court because he has advocated for it in the past, Christie said yesterday. 

That news does not sit well with some Democrats. Sen. Richard Codey (D., Essex) just released this statement: "So far, all we know about Mr. Harris, outside of his resume, is that he hasn't been a partner in his firm, has never argued in a courtroom, and apparently would recuse himself from one of the biggest political issues that might come before the Court. That does not leave me with much confidence."

The other Christie nominee up for the Democratic Senate to confirm is Phillip Kwon, the state's First Assistant Attorney General. Christie said he is a registered independent, but the Star-Ledger reported Sunday that Kwon was a Republican just a couple of years ago when he lived in New York.

Democrats argue this will give the GOP too much of an advantage on the court. But Christie's office notes that the court has long leaned Democrat, and Kwon is most certainly an independent. That would leave the court with three Republicans, two Democrats and two independents, which preserves "balance." 

Also sure to come up at Kwon's confirmation hearings are the federal civil charges that were filed against his family. According to the Star-Ledger, a New York liquor store owned by Kwon's mother forfeited nearly $160,000 to the feds last month to settle a case related to illegal bank deposits. Kwon's wife worked at the store.

The U.S. Attorney in New York alleged that on 222 occassions over 10 months cash deposits of slightly less than $10,000 each were put in the business's account. Since $10,000 is the threshold for banks to report deposits to the government for possible criminal criminal activity, it is illegal to break larger deposits into smaller sums to avoid detection.

Kwon and his wife own a condo in New York. After leaving the U.S. Attorney's Office in 2009, where he worked with Christie, Kwon -- along with his wife and mother -- bought a $2.3 million home in Closter, Bergen County, with a $1.3 million mortgage, the paper reported.

At the press conference yesterday, Christie stood by both nominees and said he was aware of the case involving Kwon's relatives. Specifically, he warned against unfairly maligning Kwon, a Korean immigrant who would be the first Asian-American justice in state history. He noted that no criminal wrongdoing was found.

"If there was something wrong here, the U.S. Attorney's Office would have prosecuted him," Christie said.

"Be careful what you're doing with this story because they are good people...let's take a deep breath and not try to smear these people who are part of what the American dream is all about."

Christie wants hearings, stat, so the men can be seated by March 1. But Democrats don't appear to be moving on the governor's timetable, and that has his office pushing back. It released a video showing Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) saying last year that he was commited to moving the nominations by March, and it put out a cheeky press release explaining the definitions of "timely" to Democrats.

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