- Associated Press - Thursday, April 21, 2016

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - Gov. Chris Christie’s pick for the state Supreme Court advanced toward approval Thursday.

Former federal prosecutor Walter Timpone’s nomination was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, 13-0, and now needs to be approved by the full Senate.

The Democratic lawyer’s nomination is part of a deal the Republican governor made with Democrats who control the state Senate to end a stalemate over the court vacancy.

Timpone told the panel that it was a “humbling honor” to be considered and that he is “well prepared for the enormous responsibilities.”

Timpone, a criminal defense attorney and a former federal prosecutor, serves on the state’s Election Law Enforcement Commission. He’s a senior partner at McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney and Carpenter and also serves as a board attorney to a New Jersey laborers’ union.

He faced questioning Thursday about his decision to recuse himself from a campaign finance case in front of the election board against Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, a Christie ally. Timpone said he excused himself because he had previously asked DiVincenzo to give his nephew a job. His nephew later had a falling out with DiVincenzo and resigned.

“You’re kind of darned if you do and darned if you don’t,” Timpone said. “If I voted for the complaint, I was doing it out of malice because of my nephew’s resignation. And if I voted against it, I was doing it because I owed him a favor.”

Timpone’s recusal left the board without a Democrat and the case being dropped.

The governor had announced earlier this year that he would nominate Monmouth County Judge David Bauman to the spot on the top court. But Democratic state Senate President Steve Sweeney had vowed Bauman would not get a vote because it would swing the party makeup of the bench too heavily in Republicans’ favor.

Christie said when he nominated Timpone that he picked a Democrat for the post because he “wanted to get something done.” He said the nomination came after Sweeney promised him that Christie could get a vote on a nominee if he selected a Democrat.

The current makeup of the seven-member court includes two Democrat-nominated justices and four Republican-picked ones. Judge Mary Catherine Cuff has been serving temporarily since 2012. She was appointed to the bench by Gov. Tom Kean, a Republican. Christie had argued that Justice Jaynee LaVecchia, appointed by Republican Gov. Christie Todd Whitman, was an independent, but Democrats count her in the Republican column.

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