New Jersey Democrats elected as Senate President a lawmaker who allegedly claimed that domestic violence complaints are frequently fabricated and subjected his ex-wife to a confidentiality agreement in their 2005 divorce that prohibits her from discussing their five-year marriage.
Nicholas Scutari, the longtime chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee who is known as “No-show Nick”, was chosen by members of the Democratic caucus as the next Senate President.
The selection is the first changing of the guard in the second most powerful spot in state government since Sweeney assumed the post more than a decade ago.
Scutari’s election as Senate leader was sealed on Friday after Democratic lawmakers met behind closed doors at the statehouse. He will assume the post at the start of the new legislative session.
Scutari will be subject to a Senate reorganization vote on January 11, when Senator Nia Gill may yet challenge him for the post after declining to seek support in the Democratic caucus election.
The first new Senate President in twelve years will replace Senator Steve Sweeney, the ally of South Jersey power broker George Norcross who was defeated by Republican truck driver Edward Durr on November 2.
Sweeney held the president post for 12 years, longer than any other New Jersey legislative leader in history, during his two decades in the Senate.
Gill, who abstained, was the only senator that did not support Scutari. Senator Ronald Rice, who announced that he would support Gill, did not attend the caucus meeting.
Rice and Scutari once had to be physically separated in the caucus room after the two men nearly came to blows over a dispute arising from their views on marijuana decriminalization.
“This is truly a humbling experience, that a poor kid from Linden raised by a single mom could one day be selected as the Senate president-elect is really awe-inspiring, and it is a true testament that the American dream is alive and well here in New Jersey,” said Scutari, who has been under fire in his hometown for allegedly holding a “no-show” job as the Linden municipal prosecutor.
Scutari was accused of “serial absenteeism” by the law firm Calcagni & Kanefsky, which the City of Linden hired to examine time billed during his 15 years as the city’s municipal prosecutor.
The firm alleged he took 141 absences over two years and reported only five to superiors, improperly delegated half of his assigned court appearances in 2017 and 2018, and illegally accrued pension credits, according to a 59-page report completed in March.
Scutari was first elected to the state senate in 2003 and in February 2018, he became the chairman of the Union County Democratic Committee, following the death of Assemblyman Gerald Green, who held the post since 2013.
Scutari served as the Linden municipal prosecutor for 15 years until he was fired in January 2020.
During that time, the Union County Democrat, who was paid $84,659 in his part-time role, continued to earn state pension credits, officials said.
Scutari essentially had a no-show job as municipal prosecutor, according to Linden Mayor Derek Armstead, who said: “In 2018, he missed 57 out of 111 court Sessions, all while earning $85,000 a year.”
Scutari’s absence led to successful appeals in several cases where defendants charged that the court routinely conducted hearings without a prosecutor or defense attorney.
An email included in a lawsuit that followed alleged that Scutari, as municipal prosecutor, routinely left the court before the docket was completed. He denied that allegation.
The mayor, in a letter, forwarded the findings and the report to the U.S. Attorney’s office, asking for a federal investigation.
Federal authorities are looking into those allegations, which have already become the focus of a state grand jury investigation into whether Scutari was often a no-show as Linden’s municipal prosecutor.
The city has been asked to provide the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office with some of the same information subpoenaed by the state, according to two sources familiar with the request.
The grand jury subpoena, which NJ Advance Media was first to report, requested payroll records, court appearance logs, records showing Scutari’s use of time off, and payments made to others who served as acting municipal prosecutors when he was not in court.
It also sought an accounting of contributions made on behalf of Scutari into the Public Employee Retirement System, as well as payroll taxes paid in relation to his employment.
Scutari, the powerful chairman of the state Senate Judiciary Committee, called the mayor’s allegations a “political hit job” and he filed a complaint against taxpayers claiming that city officials engaged in defamation against him.
He also sponsored legislation that would block municipal governing bodies from investigating their own members or former employees, limiting such probes to current employees of the executive branch.
In June, a group of progressive activist Democrats asked the state’s Joint Legislative Committee of Ethical Standards to probe Scutari’s actions.
Sue Altman, director of New Jersey Working Families Alliance, and nine others filed the ethics complaint calling for Scutari to be removed as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.