Corzine taps Rabner for top court position

Posted: June 05, 2007

TRENTON - A chance encounter in a North Jersey soup kitchen brought Stuart Rabner and Jon Corzine together.

It was Thanksgiving Day 2001 and Rabner, then a leading criminal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney's Office, and Corzine, then a U.S. senator, were volunteering at American Rescue Workers in Newark's Ironbound section.

After he was elected governor, Corzine chose Rabner as his chief counsel and later appointed him state attorney general.

Yesterday, six years after that meeting in a soup kitchen, Rabner, whom colleagues say has long wanted to be a judge, landed within arm's reach of his dream when Corzine nominated him to be chief justice of the state Supreme Court.

Corzine said Rabner was the perfect candidate to be the "steady hand that weighs the most significant questions of our time, that steadfastly defends the rule of law and equal justice under the law."

"Nobody in my mind is more qualified than Stuart Rabner to both lead our Supreme Court and administer our state court system," Corzine said in announcing the nomination, which he called one of his most important decisions as governor. "I've never dealt with an individual who I feel brings greater integrity or intelligence or commitment to excellence to [a] task."

To replace Rabner as attorney general, Corzine named Anne Milgram, once the nation's lead federal prosecutor of human-trafficking crimes and now Rabner's second in command. Both nominations, which could be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee as early as June 18, are expected to win easy Senate confirmation.

Rabner would replace Chief Justice James R. Zazzali, a fellow Democrat who will be forced to retire when he turns 70 on June 17.

He called the opportunity "an honor beyond words." It was an opportunity, he said, that just a few years ago he never thought possible.

"I consider myself so very lucky, governor, that our paths have crossed," he said.

Corzine has been open in his desire to have a long-lasting impact on the court, which is widely considered one of the most thoughtful, progressive and activist in the country. If confirmed, Rabner, 46, could lead the panel for more than two decades before he is forced to retire at 70.

Rabner said he would aim to continue the path of justices "known throughout the land for their intellect, depth of thinking, for their fairness and wisdom, for their commitment to the rule of law."

Zazzali said, like Rabner, he came to the Supreme Court without judicial experience, and saw that as "no problem at all."

More important in a judge, he said, is the dedication to do "what is just and fair and right. And if you do that, there's no magic to this job."

Thus far, Rabner has spent most of his career on one aspect of the law - fighting criminals.

Raised in Passaic by survivors of the Holocaust, he graduated from Princeton University and Harvard Law School and clerked for a U.S. district judge before joining the U.S. Attorney's Office in Newark. Rabner, who lives in Caldwell with his physician wife, Deborah, and their three children, eventually rose to the No. 2 position in the U.S. Attorney's Office, overseeing all criminal prosecutions.

Highlights of his tenure include the corruption investigation into Hudson County executive Robert Janiszewski, who later pleaded guilty, and the case against Hemant Lakhani, who was convicted of trying to sell missiles to terrorists.

Rabner's entree into state government came after Corzine was elected governor in late 2005.

Rabner's boss, U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie, a Republican, recommended him to be Corzine's attorney general. But Corzine chose Zulima Farber, a longtime Democratic lawyer and former state public advocate, and tapped Rabner as his chief counsel.

Around the Statehouse, Rabner was known as the administration's guide and conscience.

Rabner later called for an independent investigation into Farber after questions were raised about whether she helped get her live-in boyfriend out of trouble at a traffic stop.

Farber resigned soon afterward, and Corzine asked Rabner to take over as attorney general.

His new job: to turn around the sprawling Department of Law and Public Safety, which encompasses more than 10 divisions, including the state police.

The department had been widely criticized for its failure to tackle public corruption in a state known for its wayward officials and Rabner was touted for his ability to take down bad guys.

Rabner did deliver three indictments in lower-level South Jersey government cases.

But in the nine months he has led the department, he hasn't taken down any big names. In the end, he is probably best known for returning a sense of calm and credibility to an attorney general's office that just a few years before was routinely criticized.

Sen. John Adler, (D., Camden) chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Rabner "has a quiet, respectful way about him which is very appealing, where he lets the other person speak his or her mind, offer an opinion, and he takes comments as positive contributions rather than as criticism or attack." Yesterday, Rabner said he was proud of the reorganization he had overseen to direct more resources to tackling public corruption and gang violence.

Milgram said yesterday she would "continue the progress" Rabner made in those two areas, as well as focus on protecting consumers from fraud.

Corzine called Milgram, who at 36 has compiled an impressive resume as a federal prosecutor and has served as the No. 2 in the Attorney General's Office since February 2006, "One of New Jersey's brightest legal stars" and a "professional, committed public servant of great capacity."

Anne Milgram

Occupation: First assistant attorney general.

Age: 36.

Family: Single.

Education: Bachelor's degree from Rutgers College; master of philosophy degree in social and political theory from the University of Cambridge in England; law degree from New York University.

Career highlights: Began as an assistant district attorney in the Manhattan District Attorney's Office before moving in 2001 to the U.S. Justice Department, where she became the lead federal prosecutor for human-trafficking crimes. Became Jon Corzine's counsel in 2005, during his last year in the U.S. Senate, and first assistant attorney general in February 2006.

SOURCE: Associated Press

Stuart Rabner

Occupation: Attorney general.

Age: 46.

Family: Married with three children.

Residence: Caldwell.

Education: Law degree from Harvard Law School. Bachelor's degree from Princeton University.

Career highlights: Served as head of the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Newark before being appointed chief counsel by Gov.-elect Corzine in late 2005. Became attorney general in September 2006.

SOURCE: Associated Press

Contact staff writer Jennifer Moroz at 609-989-8990 or

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