In Brief

New Jersey Public Defender’s Office veteran Jennifer Sellitti tapped for top job

By: - November 16, 2023 4:26 pm

Jennifer Sellitti has been nominated to become New Jersey’s next Public Defender. She’s a 17-year veteran of the office, where she’s now director of training and communications. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Sellitti)

Gov. Phil Murphy has nominated Jennifer Sellitti to be the state’s next public defender, his office announced Wednesday.

Sellitti is a 17-year veteran of the New Jersey Office of the Public Defender, where she has been director of training and communications since 2016. The office provides free legal representation to more than 55,000 people a year statewide in criminal defense, children who have been abused, neglected, or removed from their homes, and people committed for mental health treatment, according to state data. 

“Jennifer’s efforts to ensure all defendants have effective legal representation have earned wide respect throughout our legal community,” Murphy said in a statement. “I look forward to working with Jennifer to continue our administration’s work to make New Jersey’s criminal justice system fairer and more equitable.”

The Monmouth County resident is a faculty member at the National Criminal Defense College and a U.S. Coast Guard-licensed ship captain. She previously was a public defender in Massachusetts.

“It has been my privilege to work alongside the dedicated attorneys, investigators, and support staff of this office for much of my career,” Sellitti said in a statement. “I look forward to leveraging our agency experience and talent to move in a more holistic direction and to broaden community engagement to put and keep clients at the center of all we do.”

If confirmed by the Senate, Sellitti would serve a five-year term, subject to reappointment. She will succeed state Public Defender Joseph Krakora, a 37-year veteran of the office who former Gov. Chris Christie first appointed to the top job in 2011. Krakora is set to retire Jan. 31.

About 1,200 people, including 620 attorneys, work in the office.

Monmouth County’s senators have to sign off on Sellitti’s nomination before it can move forward under a practice called senatorial courtesy, but two already have. Sens. Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth) and Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) praised the governor’s pick Wednesday.

“Jennifer Sellitti is an outstanding choice for Public Defender. She’s smart, articulate, extraordinarily well-qualified and totally dedicated to her craft,” O’Scanlon said. “While we don’t agree on everything, she always comes to the table with respect and challenging arguments. We need more of this energy in government.”

It’s unclear whether lawmakers will advance Sellitti’s nomination before new legislators are sworn in in January, and the timeline could have an effect on her nomination.

The 12th district’s senator also must give Sellitti a courtesy signoff for her nomination to move forward. Sen. Sam Thompson (D-Middlesex) did not seek reelection and will be replaced by Senator-elect Owen Henry (R-Middlsex) when new lawmakers are sworn in Jan. 9.


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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.