UNION COUNTY — Although in January Union County Prosecutor Ted Romankow said he was hoping the governor would reappoint him as prosecutor for another five years, last week he found out it was not in the cards.
On May 16 Republican Gov. Chris Christie quietly replaced Romankow, appointed twice to five-year terms by Democrat governors, with Grace Park as acting prosecutor. She will retain that title until confirmed by the New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee and a full senate vote approves the appointment.
The new prosecutor came to the U.S Attorney’s Office in Newark in 2003 as an assistant U.S. Attorney. Park will officially take over the helm June 17.
The change came without any formal announcement from the governor’s office or, for that matter, since then.
Although prosecutors are not allowed to be involved in politics, the political influence they wield can be enormous.
While governors tend to nominate prosecutors of their own political party when a position opens or a term is up, they do have to contend with “senatorial courtesy,” which requires state senators to sign off on a candidates nomination or reappointment before the state judiciary committee considers it.
Despite the sudden decision on the part of the governor, Romankow did not lament over his 11-year run, or even that he was replaced. In fact, he said Friday that he was actually thinking of not accepting another five-year term if Christie had reappointed him.
“I’m ready to move on,” the prosecutor said in an interview with LocalSource, adding he did not want to have to go before the senate judiciary committee to fight for his job.
Romankow’s five-year appointment was up in late January, but in the ensuing months the governor has remained closed mouthed on the topic of whether Romankow would be reappointed or replaced.
LocalSource had called the governor’s office multiple times since January to see if there was any update to this pending issue but was told there was “no news” as late as the week before Christie named Park as Romankow’s successor.
Romankow said he found out about the governor’s decision the evening of May 15. While surprised to hear he would be replaced, his encounter with New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa was anything but cold.
“This was a very amicable replacement. The governor has been very kind,” the prosecutor said, explaining that he respected and liked Christie.
“Christie is a good man and he has appointees who he wants to put in. I understand that,” the prosecutor said.
“Look, I have had a great 11-year run. Its time to look for other opportunities,” Romankow added.
Romankow was first appointed the chief law enforcement officer in Union County in July 2002 by former Democrat Gov. James McGreevey, reappointed five years later to a second term by Democrat Jon Corzine.
Later in the day on May 16, Romankow put out a memo to his more than 250 employees in the prosecutor’s office, announcing his departure in June.
“It is with mixed emotion that I am advising that I will be leaving my position as prosecutor,” Romankow said in the email to employees, adding that it has been his “honor and pleasure to have worked with all of you.”
“I have felt that this office is truly a family. Not just a group of employees working together for a law enforcement agency.”
The email went on:
“As I told many of you over the years, every single person at every level is as important as the other. Without each and every one of you this office would not have achieved success in so many areas,” Romankow told his employees, pointing out “your legacy and mine are intertwined and for that we should feel a great sense of pride.”
When he took over as prosecutor, Romankow vowed to make drug intervention and gang prevention and prosecution the centerpiece of his administration. Under his direction the Union County Prosecutor’s office became the first in the state to utilize the RICO, or Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act against drug dealers and members of these organizations.
As prosecutor, Romankow also created the Gang Task Force and Gang Intelligence Unit, which was charged with investigating and prosecuting gang-related crimes. The newly constructed Child Advocacy Center, a milestone for the prosecutor, serves as a full service location for those victimized by sexual abuse. The Forensic Laboratory, which is internationally certified, also was a plus for Romankow.
Implementing the Union County Homicide Task force, which Romankow said served as a model for other counties, raised the solve rate for homicides to more than 70 percent in the county.
Park has prosecuted cases in healthcare fraud, terrorism, securities fraud and violent crimes. She is currently in the healthcare and government fraud unit of the U.S. Attorney’s office and has handled a significant number of investigations and prosecutions of public and private entities.
Prior to coming to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Park was an associate at Cravath, Swaine & Moore in New York City. She obtained her law degree from Harvard Law School and her B.A. in Political Science from the University of California at Berkeley.