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Christie Defends Jobs Awarded to Rejected Court Nominees

July 31 (Bloomberg) -- New Jersey Governor Chris Christie defended the hiring of his two rejected state Supreme Court nominees for government jobs, saying experience, not patronage, got them their new positions.

Bruce Harris, who would have been the state’s first openly gay justice, was named general counsel of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority in a 6-0 board vote today, said Tom Feeney, an agency spokesman. Phillip Kwon, who would have been the first Asian-American to serve, began yesterday as first deputy general counsel for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the agency.

“The Port Authority is lucky to have him -- the same with Bruce Harris,” Christie, 49, a first-term Republican, told reporters today in Hackensack.

Harris, 61, is a finance attorney and the Republican mayor of Chatham. Kwon, 45, of Closter, had been New Jersey’s first assistant attorney general and was previously a federal prosecutor. Both were rejected for the high court by Democrats, who control both houses of the Legislature.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 7-6 against Kwon on March 22 after Democrats questioned a $160,000 payment his family made to settle a U.S. civil lawsuit over cash deposits from their liquor store.

The panel voted the same away against Harris’s nomination on May 31. An advocate of gay marriage, Harris said during the hearing that he would remove himself from the issue if it came before the court.

“It’s not like it’s an old buddy that I’m putting into a job,” Christie said of Harris. “This is a guy I recently met and was impressed with. He’s an outstanding lawyer and he will do a great job at the Turnpike.”

Harris’s new position, which pays $165,000 a year, had been vacant “for well over a year,” Feeney said in a telephone interview. Coleman, in a telephone interview, said Kwon will earn $215,000 in the position.

To contact the reporters on this story: Elise Young in Trenton at eyoung30@bloomberg.net; Terrence Dopp in Trenton at tdopp@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net

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