“A lot of people think a county prosecutor is just someone who comes out in front of a microphone or on a press release to announce big crimes,” said Union City resident Julio Morejon, a former state deputy attorney general, last week. “You have to work with the local municipalities, the Board of Education, and there’s a large community service component as well.”
Current Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio’s second five-year term is set to expire this month, and Gov. Christopher Christie has nominated him to become a state Superior Court judge. Thus, Christie can recommend someone to take DeFazio’s place, likely a Republican.
But Morejon is a Democrat. Still, he believes he has the qualifications.
Christie will make his recommendation to the state Senate Judiciary Committee before September. The committee is made up of eight to 10 state senators.
“They vet you, ask you questions, and depending on how you do, they’ll either recommend you to the full Senate or not,” Morejon explained. “After everything I’ve done in my life, I feel like this would be the natural progression.”
After receiving a B.S. From the prestitious Cornell University and a law degree from Seton Hall, Morejon became the New Jersey Deputy Attorney General in 1986. He later became municipal prosecutor for the city of Union City, then for West New York, then for Bloomfield, and most recently, for North Bergen.
Parties and political corruption
“Whether he’s a Democrat or not shouldn’t matter,” said Richard Rivera, a private investigator and Chairman of Civil Rights Protection for the New Jersey Latino Leadership Alliance. He fully supports Morejon in his desire to be the next prosecutor. “His nomination should be based on his qualifications and pedigree,” he said. “Even though the county is predominantly Democratic, his political affiliation shouldn’t have anything to do with his ability to perform that role.”
Morejon became the New Jersey deputy attorney general in 1986.
“Someone like Julio who can speak fluent Spanish is desperately needed in terms of community outreach,” said Rivera. “It would be historical for the community, because he would be the first Hispanic prosecutor in the county’s history. The way the population is now, we need someone who is in tune with the different cultures here.”
While the prosecutor’s office oversees serious crimes, it has also been called upon to investigate local corruption and election fraud. Some have questioned whether the county prosecutor’s office is objective enough to hold other politicians’ feet to the fire.
“All appointments are political: judges, department heads, and prosecutors,” Morejon said in response to this notion. “If appointed, I will make sure the position is as objective as it needs to be to maintain the integrity of the office.”
What the county prosecutor does
“The county prosecutor is the chief law enforcement officer of the county,” Morejon said. “Not only do you oversee trials, but you oversee assistant prosecutors and the entire police force of every municipality and town.”
He noted that while the county prosecutor is not involved in the various police departments’ day to day operations, it has jurisdiction over them. If there are problems or corruption within a department, the prosecutor can step in and take over.
For instance, when Morejon began as the town attorney for West New York last summer after Mayor Felix Roque was elected, the former police director was let go and two directors were nominated. The town only allows for one director. So the prosecutor’s office called Morejon because the existence of two directors would have caused both morale and administrative problems. Morejon recommended that the town select a single director.
Similarly, the prosecutor must make sure county police departments run smoothly. Last year, with their urging, Michael Indri was chosen as sole director.
Morejon served as a municipal court judge for West New York for four years until he was appointed their town attorney in 2011 when Roque moved him to the Board of Education.
“In my experience in the public sector I’ve dealt with a lot of the issues a county prosecutor has to deal with,” he said, “Including local police forces, local crime, and local politicians.”
Morejon has many ideas for the job. They include increased community outreach, law enforcement and homeland security training, and more organized and increased data collection across municipalities to increase accountability.
One plan Morejon had in mind has recently been enacted by the Attorney General’s office. They formulated a human trafficking unit meant to aid local law enforcement in the identification, investigation, and prosecution of the illegal trade of forced human sex or labor for profit. Morejon said he already had decided this would be a priority, before the state announced it.
Gennarose Pope may be reached at email@example.com