The reappointment of labor lawyer Robert Burzichelli to the State Commission of Inquiry will be canceled after a snafu on the expiration of his term.
Senate Speaker Steve Sweeney on Monday filed a direct appointment of Burzichelli for another four-year term, but his term does not end until December 31, 2022.
This means that the decision of who gets the SCI seat will rest with Sweeney’s successor, presumably Nicholas Scutari.
“This was an administrative error on our part regarding the expiration date of Commissioner Burzichelli’s term,” said Kathy Riley, SCI spokesperson. “This will be corrected by the Senate majority office.”
Depending on Scutari’s decision, South Jersey could find itself without representation on the independent investigative committee with subpoena power.
Burzichelli was one of eight direct appointments he made this week as part of the lame duck portion of his Sweeney’s tenure as legislative leader.
Two of the four SCI seats are allocated directly by the governor, the President of the Senate and the President of the Assembly each obtaining a direct appointment. No more than two can belong to the same political party.
Burzichelli was first appointed to the commission by Sweeney in June 2014 to serve the last six months of an unexpired term. He was renamed in 2015 and 2019. He is the brother of Sweeney’s longtime running mate, MP John Burzichelli (D-Paulsboro). John Burzichelli lost his candidacy for re-election for an 11th term last week.
President Craig Coughlin appointed Kevin Reina to SCI last year. He served as John Hoffman, who was appointed by Coughlin in 2018 but stepped down in October 2020.
Two SCI commissioners appointed by Republican Gov. Chris Christie are on hold as Gov. Phil Murphy never held the seats. The term of Joseph Scancarella, former member of the Assembly and judge of the Superior Court of Passaic County, expired at the end of 2019 and the seat held by another Republican, Rosemary Iannacone, former assistant to Christie, expired at the end of Last year.
Since Reina is independent, Murphy can appoint a Democrat to fill the two vacant seats.
There was a time when SCI had real teeth, when a visit from an investigator or a subpoena could reliably cause those in power to lose control of their bladder.
The Legislative Assembly created the SCI in 1968 as part of a package of anti-crime bills passed by Governor Richard Hughes after allegations that a member of the North Jersey assembly worked to cancel a Senate hearing on organized crime at the behest of famous mafia boss Jerry Catena.
Shortly thereafter, a deputy state attorney general, in a speech to a state journalistic company, said that three sitting lawmakers were “completely too comfortable with organized crime.” He later increased the number to six.
The new SCI was created with enormous investigative powers, in large part to keep the legislature out of organized crime investigative activities. The commission had the power to authorize wiretapping, compel mafia bosses to testify and even temporarily imprison those who refused to appear before them. They relayed their findings to law enforcement and acted independently of politics.
Although the SCI has a broad competence, it deals today with questions of a lesser scope than those which dominated its original mission.