New details in New Jersey government sex assault case emerge

The chief of Gov. Phil Murphy's transition said Tuesday he learned about a state worker's allegations she was sexually assaulted by a campaign official before the official was hired to work in the administration.

That and other details emerged during a marathon legislative hearing probing how Murphy's team handled the matter. They came just a day after Katie Brennan filed a lawsuit against the state and Albert Alvarez, the former state official she says attacked her. Alvarez has denied the allegations.

The Associated Press does not typically identify people alleging sexual assault without their consent, but Brennan came forward publicly last year. Brennan is chief of staff at the state's housing finance agency.

Transition chief Jose Lozano told legislators he learned during the transition that sexual assault allegations against Alvarez had been made. Lawmakers questioned him about how it was that Alvarez could have been hired, and he responded that he didn't know the details of the allegations, who the accuser was, or who actually hired Alvarez.

MORE: NJ Senate sets up panel to probe handling of assault charge | Prosecutor: Sex assault probe of Murphy staffer was thorough

Lawmakers seemed incredulous that Lozano and the others who testified did not inquire more about the accusations and Alvarez's hiring. They also wondered whether the governor really did not know about the allegations until October, when they came out in a Wall Street Journal article.

"There was more to do, and there were more questions to ask, and there was a fire and someone needed to get the firehouse," said Democratic Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt.

At one point Democratic Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg expressed her frustration that administration, campaign and transition officials seemed to be pointing fingers at one another.

"Nobody seemed to have responsibility for anything," she said.

Murphy campaign attorney Jonathan Berkon told legislators he and counsel Matt Platkin, who represents the governor in an official capacity, decided jointly that Alvarez couldn't stay in government - four months before Alvarez actually left.

It was the latest in the case, in which Brennan says Alvarez sexually assaulted her in April 2017 when they were both working to elect Murphy, a Democrat.

Brennan went to authorities, who did not bring charges, and told others in the administration about the assault and was assured Alvarez would be leaving state government.

But he was chief of staff at the Schools Development Authority until October.

Murphy has said he wished Alvarez wasn't hired but he defended how his transition team and administration acted.

He appointed former state Supreme Court Justice Peter Verniero to investigate the matter and asked the state's Division of Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action to review administration policies.