Matt Platkin speaking in Trenton after he was nominated as the next attorney general on Feb. 3, 2022. (Edwin J. Torres | New Jersey Governor’s Office).
Gov. Phil Murphy has nominated Matt Platkin, his former chief counsel and a New Jersey native, to become the state’s next attorney general.
Platkin will oversee 7,700 state troopers, lawyers, and other staff in the Department of Law and Public Safety. If his nomination is approved, Platkin would replace acting Attorney General Andrew Bruck, who has served in the role since his predecessor, Gurbir Grewal, resigned last summer.
Murphy announced the nomination Thursday at the War Memorial in Trenton.
“I have known Matt, personally and professionally, for the last eight years,” Murphy said. “I have seen his intellect, his work ethic, his commitment to good governance, and his ethical sense of right and wrong. As my first chief counsel, he was my primary adviser on all of our administration’s legal matters, and spearheaded many of our policy initiatives, including gun safety, voting rights, and the rights of those left at society’s margins.”
The nomination now goes to the Senate for confirmation. Platkin will become acting attorney general on Feb. 14.
His nomination is not expected to face much resistance in the Democratically controlled Legislature. At least two Republican lawmakers have already expressed support for Platkin.
In a short speech, Platkin said his top priority will be fighting violent crime and tackling the root causes of gun crime.
He comes to the job at a time when confidence in police has plummeted, and as reformers nationally demand accountability for police brutality and urge public officials to scale back criminal justice funding. At the same time, he noted, police are increasingly acting as addiction and mental health counselors while navigating a deadly global pandemic.
“We must acknowledge that for too many, the trust between law enforcement and the communities we serve is broken,” he said. “We will redouble our efforts to repair that trust.”
At 35, Platkin will be one of the nation’s youngest attorney generals. Christopher Porrino, who was attorney general under Chris Christie from 2016 to 2018, said Platkin’s age belies his abilities.
“His mind works in a way that does not match his age,” Porrino said. “His legal thinking is mature well, well, well beyond his years. I found him to be insightful, very strategic, and he’s tough. Those are the qualities you want in an attorney general.”
Porrino works with Platkin now; both are partners at the Roseland-based law firm Lowenstein Sandler. Platkin specializes in white collar criminal defense and business litigation. He previously worked at the New York City law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton.
Platkin went to work for Murphy in May 2016, when he became policy director on his gubernatorial campaign. When Murphy took office in January 2018, Platkin became his chief counsel.
In that post, he oversaw an office of more than 20 attorneys who advised the governor on legislation, executive orders, and administrative regulations and coordinated with the Attorney General’s Office on civil matters. He also advised the governor on three state budgets and emergency policies and responses during the pandemic’s early days.
His state tenure was not unblemished.
Former Senate President Steve Sweeney called for Platkin to resign in 2019 over Platkin’s handling of sexual assault allegations lodged by state worker Katie Brennan, who accused another state worker, Al Alvarez, of sexually assaulting her when both volunteered on Murphy’s gubernatorial campaign.
Porrino deflected questions on that.
“My view of that is there was litigation over it, there were extensive legislative hearings, Matt testified extensively. It’s over. I will leave to the Judiciary Committee and Matt Platkin what’s left to say on that matter,” Porrino said.
A Jersey boy
Platkin grew up in Florham Park and Morristown, graduated from Madison High School, and received his undergraduate and law degrees from Stanford University, where he was an editor of the Stanford Law Review. He now lives in Montclair with his wife, Sophia, and their 3-year-old son, Robert.
Working for Murphy wasn’t his first foray into politics. He worked at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., advising members of Congress on job growth and economic recovery after the 2008 financial crisis. Platkin also advised U.S. Sen. Cory Booker during President Trump’s first impeachment trial.
After Murphy announced the nomination, one lawmaker expressed objections about the pick. Sen. Kristin Corrado (R-Passaic) sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, an 11-member body that must approve the nomination before a confirmation hearing can occur.
Platkin was Murphy’s chief counsel in the pandemic’s early weeks, when the current state of emergency and initial public health emergency were first declared, Corrado said.
“I’m concerned that Matt Platkin was the counsel who advised Gov. Murphy to govern by executive order and overbearing mandates for the past two years,” she said. “On emergency powers, we need someone who shares the views of New Jerseyans that it’s time for Gov. Murphy to give it back.”
But more lawmakers and community leaders issued gushing statements of support.
“I had the opportunity to work closely with Matt in his role as the governor’s chief counsel,” said Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex). “He is a smart, talented, and dedicated attorney – all qualities that will provide for strong leadership of the Attorney General’s Office.”
Sen. Gordon Johnson (D-Essex) said he hopes Platkin will help increase diversity in police departments, fight workplace discrimination, curb the rise in hate crimes, and restore trust between law enforcement and communities.
Sen. Robert Singer (R-Monmouth) called Platkin “a terrific choice.”
“Matt is an extremely talented attorney with years of public service experience,” he said. “In the past we have cooperated on issues that affect my legislative district.”
Amol Sinha, who heads the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, said the group hopes Platkin will prioritize jury reform, sentencing reform, immigrants’ rights, and police accountability.
“The decisions of the attorney general have an impact on critical issues like whether people live their lives in cages or in freedom, whether police officers face meaningful accountability, and whether immigrants feel forced into the shadows or free to participate in civic life,” Sinha said.
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