Inquirer Editorial: Poor choice for judgeship

Posted: January 13, 2014

It's hard to imagine that Gov. Christie could have forgotten he was once a corruption-busting U.S. attorney. But his background is certainly at odds with his tone-deaf plan to nominate Delaware River Port Authority chief John Matheussen for a judgeship.

While the Christie administration's meddling with another port authority has been grabbing national headlines, Matheussen's agency has been busy responding to a second round of subpoenas from the FBI's Philadelphia office, which is apparently interested in the DRPA's non-transportation spending. The first subpoenas, in April, came on the heels of a scathing report by the office of state Comptroller Matthew Boxer, which said that "in nearly every area we looked at, we found people who treated the DRPA like a personal ATM, from DRPA commissioners to private vendors to community organizations."

Matheussen hasn't been charged with anything, but the investigation calls into question his fitness for a state Superior Court judgeship. He has been the DRPA's executive director since 2003, presiding over a period of lavish spending on "economic development" projects with little or no relation to the agency's mission.

The DRPA frittered away some $500 million on everything from athletic stadiums to a shuttered boxing club. Meanwhile, Matheussen and other top managers rang up excessive expenses on lunches and hotel stays. While tolls and fares rose, the wanton economic development spending contributed to the DRPA's $1.6 billion in debt. Servicing that debt drains funds that could be used to maintain the agency's PATCO rail line and Delaware River bridges.

Even if Matheussen's administrative blunders could be excused, it would be hard to see how he is qualified to become a judge. He hasn't practiced law in years.

Perhaps it's his political credentials. Matheussen served as a Republican state senator until 2003, when he obligingly accepted the DRPA nomination from Gov. Jim McGreevey, allowing South Jersey Democrats to win his seat.

Christie may think this is a clever way to get Matheussen to resign from the DRPA, but he is doing a disservice to the state. There are scores of practicing attorneys and competent officials who would make better candidates for the bench. If Christie proceeds with this nomination, the state Senate should reject it.

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