Murphy administration ‘mishandled’ staffer’s rape claim says N.J. Leg. committee

Jun 5, 2019

A blistering report by a bipartisan committee of the New Jersey Legislature says the administration of Gov. Phil Murphy “mishandled” an employee’s rape claim and suggested that top officials should be “embarrassed” by their testimony.

The report caps off a legislative investigation that has dogged Murphy’s tenure in office and raised questions about the state’s hiring practices as well as policies for investigating claims of sexual harassment and assault.

Katie Brennan testifies before a joint committee of the state Legislature. (Joe Hernandez)

“It was a scar on government,” state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, said of the episode. “It was another sad reminder of conditions, behavior, and attitudes that need to change.”

Murphy has long said he did not know about the allegation for months until it was about to be published in the Wall Street Journal.

The investigation began after Katie Brennan, a Murphy campaign supporter and current administration official, accused Murphy staffer Al Alvarez of raping her in her Jersey City apartment after an April 2017 Murphy campaign event.

In testimony before the Legislature, Brennan claimed the administration ignored her pleas for help while allowing Alvarez to remain on the transition team and later join the administration.

Alvarez has since resigned from his post and maintains his innocence. He was never charged with a crime. Two separate county prosecutors reviewed the allegations against him.

The committee’s report criticized the Murphy administration’s response to Brennan’s accusation and suggested that several top officials were evasive when asked by legislators who hired Alvarez in the first place.

“We have concerns that some of what we may have heard had been intentionally perjurious so as to subvert the legitimate efforts of the Legislature and this committee,” said state Sen. Kristin Corrado, R-Passaic.

Corrado was one of two Republicans who abstained from voting to release the report, saying she believed the committee should continue investigating questionable hires and a lack of policies inside the administration.

The report recommended ways the state could better handle sexual assault claims in the future, such as amending state employment law to include gubernatorial transitions and updating the The New Jersey State Policy Prohibiting Discrimination in the Workplace.

It also reached a conclusion on the long-unanswered question of who hired Alvarez in the first place. The report lays that at the feet of Murphy’s former chief of staff Pete Cammarano and former transition director Jose Lozano, both of whom denied hiring Alvarez during committee testimony.