TRENTON — A lawyer who worked in Gov. Chris Christie’s administration has been named to lead the state Ethics Commission, a job that comes with the authority to evaluate which ethics complaints are investigated and which are thrown out.
Susana E. Guerrero was approved as the commission’s executive director in a closed-door vote Tuesday night. The approval comes as the Republican governor’s office is enmeshed in a political retribution scandal.
Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for Christie, said Guerrero is widely respected and was approved unanimously by the bipartisan commission.
Andrew Bern, the commission’s chairman, told the website NJ Spotlight that the Governor’s Office recommended that Guerrero succeed Peter Tober, who recently became a Superior Court judge.
Roberts said the commission has the sole authority to hire Guerrero.
The panel includes two members of Christie’s cabinet and the person the governor named to head the agency that oversees the Meadowlands sports complex. It’s not known how many of the seven commissioners voted. Guerrero’s salary was not immediately known.
Attempts to reach Guerrero were unsuccessful.
Guerrero worked in Christie’s counsel’s office and previously worked at the law firm where the governor and his closest adviser, Bill Palatucci, once worked.
Lawmakers and the U.S. Attorney’s office are investigating claims that aides to Christie created traffic jams to punish a political adversary and an allegation that the administration threatened to withhold Hurricane Sandy recovery aid unless a Democratic mayor supported a politically connected redevelopment project.
In her new job, Guerrero would review any ethics complaints filed against Christie administration officials, most of whom are her former colleagues, in the bridge or storm aid matters. The commissioners who approved her hiring would become involved only if action is called for after a complaint is investigated.
The traffic jam scandal involves allegations that top Christie aides blocked two lanes approaching the George Washington Bridge, creating hours-long backups in the town at the base of the span, to send a message to the Democratic mayor there, who did not endorse Christie for re-election. Twenty subpoenas are due back next week.
The second allegation comes from Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, who alleges that Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno told her privately that storm recovery funds would be withheld unless a redevelopment project was allowed to move forward. Guadagno and the administration vigorously deny the claim.