And he's really butthurt over it.
TRENTON — On a day marked
by angry outbursts and raw nerves, the Democratic-led Senate Judiciary
Committee today rejected Chris Christie’s nomination of Phillip Kwon to
the state Supreme Court, handing the governor his biggest setback since
coming to Trenton.
It was the first time in modern history lawmakers have turned down a governor’s choice for the state’s highest court.
The committee’s 7-6 vote against Kwon capped more than seven hours of
intense questioning and furious verbal sparing that left some
Republicans charging Democrats with staging a "witch hunt" and a
Shortly after the vote Christie lashed out at Democrats.
"They conducted a shameful mockery of a hearing that dragged Phil and
his family through the mud," Christie said. "Today was political
payback for pension and benefit reform. … Phil Kwon was sacrificed at
the altar as payback."
The governor added, "They all followed the political line like lemmings."
The vote came after Democrats grilled Kwon about the legal problems
of his family’s business and accused Christie of trying to stack the
court with Republicans.
The five Republicans on the committee denounced the hearing as a "character assassination" to score political points.
"We didn’t have a hearing today," Sen. Kevin O’Toole (R-Essex) said. "We had a lynching."
But Democrats held their ground, saying there were too many
unanswered questions about his family’s business and how he would tip
the political balance of the court.
"I’m sure the governor is in the governor’s true form: Angry," said
Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), a committee member. "But he put forth a
candidate about whom there were questions. He tried to make the idea
that this was going to be a balanced Supreme Court, which didn’t sell."
For Kwon, his bid for the state’s highest court ended in stunned
silence as Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), chairman of the committee,
cast the seventh and final "no" vote about 6:45.
Kwon declined to comment as he left the room with his wife, Sung Hui
"Chris’ Kwon. He retained a cool expression for most of the long
hearing, but for a brief moment when he choked up over the honor of his
nomination during opening remarks.
"I find it difficult to express just how humbled I feel to be sitting
here before you today to be considered as an associate justice for the
New Jersey Supreme Court," he said.
Video: Christie calls judiciary hearing a circus, partisan sideshow
Gov. Chris Christie called
a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee today a "shameful mockery"
of a hearing, when they grilled his Supreme Court nominee Phillip Kwon
for more than six hours and ultimately rejected him. (Megan DeMarco/The
If confirmed, Kwon would have been the state’s first Asian-American
justice. The hearing for Christie’s other nominee, Bruce Harris, 61, the
mayor of Chatham borough, was postponed.
The nomination — anticipated to be a battle of wills between Christie
and Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), who was lining up
votes against Kwon in the days leading up to the hearing — unfolded
Scutari said Senate Democrats offered Kwon a chance to step aside
before a hearing, but he declined. Christie, who spent the day watching
the hearings in his office, said he knew at 9 a.m. that his pick for the
high court did not have enough votes to advance.
"The hearing didn’t matter," Christie said. "Before (Kwon) sat in the
chair this morning, the cake was baked." Asked why he let Kwon proceed,
he said, "Senator Scutari would have preferred I do his dirty work for
Christie stood by his earlier statements that he had no "Plan B," but
said there were some potential candidates in the "bullpen" and he would
take a second look at them in the coming weeks.
"We’re going to have to go back to the drawing board."
After Kwon’s opening remarks, Scutari kicked off what became a
barrage of questioning about the New York wine and liquor store owned by
Kwon’s wife and mother.
Federal authorities last year alleged that from April 2010 to
February 2011, more than $2 million in cash was broken into 222 deposits
of slightly less than $10,000 to avoid scrutiny by the Internal Revenue
Service — an illegal practice known as "structuring."
The store settled the lawsuit in December and forfeited nearly
$160,000. The business did not admit any liability, Kwon was not named
in the case and no charges were filed. All of the appropriate taxes were
paid, Kwon said, and his mother simply made a "mistake."
"I explained to her that making deposits in this way probably raised
red flags with the bank," Kwon told the committee. "She was not
attempting to launder funds or evade taxes. She made a mistake because
she didn’t know the reporting requirements."
Kwon struggled to explain why his mother made the deposits in the
amount that she did. He said she feared going to the bank with larger
sums of money because she might get robbed, but added that she brought
home the cash not deposited in the bank to keep at home. "Her mind-set
was, if I get robbed, I’d rather lose $9,000 than $15,000," Kwon said.
"But that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever," Scutari said. "That flies in the face of sense."
Kwon was clear that he knew very little about the store, never
represented it as a lawyer or accountant, and did not discuss any of the
bookkeeping or day-to-day operations with his wife and mother, even
though they all live together in a $2.3 million home in Closter they
bought in 2010.
The Democrats’ questioning irritated the five Republicans on the
committee. Early in the hearing, Sen. Joseph Kyrillos (R-Monmouth)
interrupted Sen. Nia Gill (D-Essex), complaining that Democrats were
spending too much time on Kwon’s mother.
"It seems to me Mrs. Kwon is the nominee to the Supreme Court," Kyrillos said. "Is Mrs. Kwon the nominee?"
"For me to make a decision, it is critical with respect to this information," Gill fired back.
Kwon, who registered with no party affiliation in New Jersey since
April, was registered as a Republican in New York for more than a
decade. He said he first registered as an independent in high school but
switched to Republican after 2000 "to become more politically engaged,
more politically active."
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