Scrutiny of Murphy A.G. pick focuses on his response to a rape claim

By: - February 4, 2022 5:49 pm

Governor Phil Murphy nominated Matt Platkin to be New Jersey’s next Attorney General on Feb. 3, 2022. (Photo by Edwin J. Torres/NJ Governor’s Office)

Several Republican lawmakers have objected to Gov. Phil Murphy’s pick for attorney general, largely because of the nominee’s role in the bungled investigation of a woman’s claim that a Murphy gubernatorial campaign staffer raped her after a campaign party.

Matt Platkin was Murphy’s chief counsel when Katie Brennan alerted him and other Murphy administration officials in 2018 that she had reported Al Alvarez to law enforcement authorities for sexual assault. The administration later hired Alvarez for a six-figure job with the state, where he worked for almost a year even though officials knew about Brennan’s complaint.

In a 2019 report, the New Jersey Legislative Select Oversight Committee declared the Murphy administration “seriously mishandled” the incident and blasted Platkin specifically for “sloppy” legal decisions and “incredible testimony.”

Alvarez was not criminally charged and denies he raped Brennan. He accused her in 2019 of defamation and malicious prosecution, telling “I’ve been maligned in the press. I was forced out of a job. I have a family. I have commitments and obligations. I’ve become a pariah in the public and that makes it difficult to find a job.”

On Friday, Senate Republican Leader Steven Oroho (R-Sussex) and Sen. Michael Doherty (R-Warren) demanded the Senate Judiciary Committee do “a thorough vetting” of Platkin before it votes whether to confirm his nomination.

GOP Sen. Steve Oroho (Courtesy of New Jersey Senate Democrats)

“We have extremely serious concerns about Matt’s handling of Katie Brennan’s allegations of sexual assault and the guidance he provided Gov. Murphy as chief counsel on the use of emergency powers during the pandemic,” Oroho said. “Matt is obviously a very smart guy, but he shouldn’t expect a free pass to avoid the scrutiny a nominee for attorney general deserves.”

Brennan told the New Jersey Monitor Friday her experience with Platkin “has implications for many others.”

“When hard decisions and accountability needed to be front of mind, he mishandled my case,” she said. “There are many attorneys in New Jersey, and I don’t understand why this is their highest and best pick.”

Brennan also condemned the nomination Thursday on Twitter, saying it “sends a terrible message to survivors of sexual violence.”

There are many attorneys in New Jersey, and I don’t understand why this is their highest and best pick.

– Katie Brennan

Brennan sued the state and Murphy’s campaign and settled in 2020 for $1 million that was donated (after attorneys’ fees) to the Waterfront Project, a Hudson County charity that helps sexual assault survivors.

Platkin, who’s set to start as acting Attorney General on Feb. 14, didn’t respond Friday to requests for comment.

Alyana Alfaro, a Murphy spokeswoman, would not comment specifically on the Brennan issue, saying only that the governor looks forward to Platkin’s confirmation.

“Gov. Murphy believes that Matt Platkin is a once-in-a-generation legal talent whose depth of experience, record of public service, and commitment to issues like gun safety and voting rights will make him an extraordinary attorney general,” Alfaro said. “The governor has seen Matt’s legal acumen up close for many years, and the governor can speak firsthand to Matt’s dedication to New Jersey and the people who call our state home.”

Oroho, Doherty, and Sen. Kristin Corrado (R-Passaic) also objected to Platkin advising Murphy, early in the pandemic, on the use of emergency powers. And Doherty complained that Platkin, as a career attorney, hasn’t worked as a prosecutor or law enforcement officer. Doherty and Corrado are members of the Judiciary Committee.

Sloppy and shocking?

Platkin’s name comes up 170 times in the 123-page investigatory report on Brennan’s case that the New Jersey Legislative Select Oversight Committee issued in June 2019 after hearing testimony from multiple Murphy administration officials.

The blistering report took administration officials to task for everything from initially hiding the incident from the governor to hiring Alvarez and failing to boot him out the door quickly enough after Brennan told bosses about her accusations. Platkin — who had been friends with both Brennan and Alvarez and attended the party that preceded the alleged assault — even tried to help Alvarez find his next job, the committee said. Platkin denied that in his testimony.

What’s undisputed is that for nine months in 2018, both Brennan and Alvarez had jobs in the Murphy administration. The committee’s report said that created a hostile work environment for Brennan, who testified she feared seeing Alvarez around Trenton and at Murphy administration meetings.

“Mr. Platkin should have consulted attorneys with more knowledge about and experience with the state’s policy prohibiting discrimination in the workplace,” the committee wrote, adding Platkin’s decision not to share the claims with Murphy “was far too important to have been made in this sloppy manner.”

Brennan now works for New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, after leaving her job with the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency last year. Alvarez remained in his $170,000 chief of staff position at the New Jersey Schools Development Authority until he resigned in October 2018, the same day Brennan went public with her story in the Wall Street Journal.

The committee also found Platkin and other Murphy officials failed to adequately document how they responded to Brennan’s complaint and flouted several state EEOC rules.

“The absence of any written record about Ms. Brennan’s complaint to Mr. Platkin, and how the Attorney General’s Office handled it, borders on the shocking,” the committee said.

Platkin and other officials also disregarded a recommendation from the Attorney General’s Office to direct a campaign attorney to investigate Brennan’s claims, the committee found. They “appeared more concerned with avoiding negative publicity than following proper protocols and getting to the truth of the matter,” the report said.

An earlier version of this story should have referred to Alvarez as a Murphy campaign staffer, not volunteer.


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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.