A state senator said Monday he has stopped blocking the nomination of a former Cape May County sheriff to the state Parole Board in return for Gov. Chris Christie’s consideration of a second term for that county’s Democratic prosecutor.
Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, has withdrawn his formal objection to Christie’s nomination of Ocean City resident James Plousis, a Republican, to chair the state Parole Board. The nomination advanced out of a Senate committee Monday.
Plousis, the former county sheriff who currently serves as a U.S. marshal, was nominated by Christie in March. But Van Drew intervened in May, using the unwritten power of state senators to block consideration of state nominations from the counties they represent. Van Drew held up Plousis’ nomination, saying he would not allow it to move until he saw progress on the reappointment of current Cape May County Prosecutor Robert Taylor.
Taylor is the former Democratic Party chair in Cape May County, where Van Drew began his political career. Taylor has served one term as prosecutor, beginning in 2004, but his renomination hit difficulty in early January, in the last days of then-Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s administration.
At the time, numerous protesters attended Taylor’s scheduled hearing Jan. 7, and the committee put off the hearing, which has not been rescheduled. Taylor’s term has expired, but he continues to serve in the post in a holdover capacity.
Van Drew forced the issue four months later, saying he would block Plousis for the Parole Board post through his senatorial courtesy power.
But Van Drew said Monday that he had since had “many fruitful, direct meetings” with Christie on the issue and had withdrawn his objection.
“I have — I am now supporting him. And I always did support him,” he said of Plousis.
“But I wanted to make sure that we had very fair, equal and open opportunities for other nominations and that my prosecutor would be given every consideration.”
Asked whether Taylor would now have a renomination hearing in the near future, Van Drew said, “I now believe that he will.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday approved Plousis’ nomination, which now goes to the full Senate for a vote as soon as Thursday, said committee Chairman Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, Somerset, Middlesex.
In his hearing, Plousis described how his experience — from Cape May County sheriff running the county jail to his current position as the state’s U.S. marshal, part of the law-enforcement arm of the federal courts — had influenced his view of how departments should cooperate.
“During that time, I’ve been able to collaborate with all levels of law enforcement, to do the best for New Jersey,” he said.
Taylor’s critics have included Teresa Downey, one of a number of advocates who want the county to better handle investigations into crimes against women.
Another opponent of Taylor’s renomination was Bill Subin, a lawyer who defended State Trooper Robert Higbee, who was acquitted of vehicular homicide after an on-duty 2006 crash in Upper Township.
Subin argued that Taylor should never have pursued the case in criminal court.
The current agreement between Christie and Van Drew also was confirmed Monday by Plousis, who said he had learned at the time his hearing was set that Van Drew’s objection had been resolved.
“All I know is, I spoke to the governor, and he said it’s all been worked out,” Plousis said.
Van Drew’s remarks Monday still leave room for a bumpy process for Taylor.
“I’ve been promised the prosecutor will be given a very fair, equal and open opportunity at a hearing going forward,” Van Drew said.
But the 13-member Senate Judiciary Committee, composed of eight Democrats and five Republicans, may again hear from Taylor’s critics.
Taylor did not return calls for comment on the news Monday.
Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Christie, did not comment on the situation.
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