TRENTON - State Sen. Wayne Bryant, who has been dogged by state and federal criminal investigations into taxpayer-funded jobs, is retiring from the law firm he helped found more than three decades ago.
The departure of the veteran Democratic legislator from Zeller & Bryant L.L.P., the Cherry Hill firm where he has been a partner, was advertised in the professional announcements section of yesterday's issue of the weekly New Jersey Law Journal.
"The partners, associates and staff extend our best wishes to Wayne for good health and happiness in his retirement," reads the firm's announcement, which carries a date of March 1.
Although there were published reports yesterday that Bryant, 59, also would not seek reelection this year, friends and colleagues insisted that the Camden County lawmaker had not made a decision on whether to give up his Senate seat.
Bryant did not return messages left at his house and law and legislative offices yesterday. His law partner, Allen Zeller, also did not return a call for comment.
Camden County Democratic sources said party leaders had assumed that the beleaguered senator would not seek reelection this year, and were prepared to back Dana Redd - a six-year Camden City councilwoman and vice chairman of the state Democratic Party - to take his seat.
Redd and the Camden County Democratic Party did not return calls.
Several people close to Bryant, including Melvin "Randy" Primas, the City of Camden's former chief operating officer, said yesterday that the senator had not decided whether to step down.
Questioned about the reports that Bryant planned to leave the Senate, his legislative aide, Kerry Baynes, said, "I can't confirm or deny that because I don't know."
Bryant's retirement from the legal world marks another significant step back from public life for a man who was one of the state's most powerful lawmakers.
His retreat follows a year of personal struggles and professional and legal problems.
Last April, Bryant discovered the body of his only son, who, at 37, had died from complications from a hernia.
The senator's professional troubles began to snowball not long afterward. In September, a federal monitor appointed by U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie to root out abuse and waste at the scandal-plagued University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey lambasted Bryant's $35,000-a-year job as "program support coordinator" for the school.
In a report to Christie, Herbert Stern, former federal judge, determined that Bryant did little, if anything, in the position, and was hired for his "political juice" as chairman of the Budget and Appropriations Committee to steer millions of dollars in state money to the school.
Bryant, who left the job early last year, about a month after Stern started looking into UMDNJ, denied the allegations, saying the report was "not accurate in many respects."
Both state and federal investigators have been swarming since, demanding documents tied to work performed by him and Zeller & Bryant for various other public agencies and institutions.
Investigators have scrutinized Bryant's legal work for the Gloucester County Board of Social Services, where he was collecting pension credits for work he farmed out to subordinates at Zeller & Bryant. The board terminated Bryant's contract, citing a desire to streamline and cut costs.
Authorities are reviewing redevelopment work performed by Bryant's law firm for the City of Camden and paid for with state funds secured by Bryant as senator. Documents also have been subpoenaed from Rutgers University, where Bryant worked at the law school in Camden as an adjunct professor until last year.
Bryant averaged $170,000 a year over three years among his two university jobs, his post in Gloucester County, and his role as senator. Together, the four jobs qualify him for a public pension of more than $83,000 a year.
Education: Bachelor's degree in political science, Howard University; law degree, Rutgers University School of Law in Camden.
Occupation: State senator and lawyer (Zeller & Bryant).
Public service: Camden County Board of Freeholders (1980-82), State Assembly (1982-95), State Senate (since 1995).
Career highlights: Bryant was a national welfare-reform leader in 1992 when he sponsored legislation to cut benefits to women on welfare who have more children, and was chief architect of the 2002 Camden Recovery Act, which poured $175 million into the city.