Friday, July 21, 2006

Farber - Philadelphia Inquirer - On hot seat over traffic stop

Published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Thursday, July 20, 2006

Farber on hot seat over traffic stop

By Jennifer Moroz
Inquirer Trenton Bureau

TRENTON - Before she became New Jersey's attorney general, Zulima Farber's fitness for the job was questioned because of her long list of driving violations.

Just six months later, Republicans are calling for Farber's resignation amid speculation that she helped her boyfriend out of a driving-related mess of his own. And even many of her fellow Democrats are privately predicting she won't survive this latest round of criticism.

Gov. Corzine, meanwhile, has been thrust into the awkward position of addressing allegations of impropriety against the woman he picked to be a central figure in his campaign to clean up government.

Corzine's chief counsel named an independent prosecutor this month to investigate whether Farber, 61, used her influence to get special treatment for Hamlet Goore Jr. at a traffic stop near the couple's home during the Memorial Day weekend. After Farber arrived, police in Fairview, Bergen County, moved to dismiss two driving citations, saying they had been based on incorrect information.

Farber, who through a spokesman declined to comment, has denied interfering on Goore's behalf and has said she welcomes the special prosecutor's review.

David Rebovich, a political science professor at Rider University in Lawrenceville, said his "knee-jerk reaction" was: "She should quit." But he joined many legislators in praising the Corzine administration for going about the matter "the right way" and calling for a review.

Especially after vowing to make ethics a high priority, Corzine "cannot allow such a key official to be tainted or for his administration to be considered tolerant of misconduct," Rebovich said. "If housecleaning must be done, he should get it over with."

Farber's supporters, meanwhile, have beseeched the public not jump to conclusions before the probe is complete.

Rick Thigpen, a Democratic strategist and Farber friend, said Farber would be "the first in line to hold herself accountable" if she did anything wrong. Her reputation, he said, has been prematurely and "perhaps unfairly called into question."

"I think it's indicative of the current climate in Trenton, where there's a quick suspicion that where there's smoke, there's really fire," he said.

Corzine, who has largely distanced himself from the matter, agreed that talk about Farber's involvement in the traffic stop was "highly speculative."

"I don't even know what the facts are. It's not right for me to be judge and jury," he said.

But critics say Farber's arrival at the scene was, at the very least, a bad judgment call that created an appearance of impropriety. And the Attorney General's Office, they say, can't afford to look bad, especially given its image. Farber was meant to restore credibility to the office after her predecessor, Peter C. Harvey, was accused - he says unjustly - of making ethical mistakes and going soft on public corruption.

Republicans have been the most outspoken on Farber, with a group of state senators demanding her resignation. Assembly Republicans have introduced a measure seeking impeachment - the only way to oust an attorney general.

Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R., Bergen), one of two Judiciary Committee members to vote against Farber's nomination, said, "She should have stayed away from" the traffic stop.

Cardinale, who is calling on Farber to quit. "It creates a perception not only of unethical conduct but of blatant arrogance," said Cardinale, who is calling on Farber to quit.

At issue is a May 26 traffic stop in Fairview, a few blocks from the home Goore and Farber share in North Bergen. Goore, 65, reportedly was on his way to work as acting director of Irvington's Department of Community Development when he was stopped during a campaign to enforce seatbelt use. Local police wrote him tickets for driving with a suspended license and for driving an unregistered vehicle.

Police planned to impound his minivan, but told Goore that he could call someone to empty its contents first. He called Farber, who arrived in a state vehicle driven by a trooper. Once there, she has said, she did not speak to police, and "didn't exert any influence of any type."

According to news reports, the officers did not impound Goore's minivan. And according to court records, the detective who wrote the tickets later requested that they be voided because of "incorrect information" in the police system. One ticket - for driving an unregistered vehicle - has been paid. The request to dismiss the other has yet to go before a judge.

Goore, a nonpracticing lawyer, has a long history of financial troubles and a checkered driving record, including 10 license suspensions.

But he was, in fact, a driver in good standing on the day he was stopped, officials at the Motor Vehicle Commission said. Goore's driving privileges had been restored last year, commission spokesman David Weinstein said, but "it hadn't been updated in the system yet." As for Goore's registration, he renewed it the day of the stop, Weinstein said, but "it's unclear whether it was restored before or after."

Finding out exactly what happened has been left to Richard Williams, a former state appeals judge from Atlantic County. Corzine chief counsel Stuart Rabner asked Williams, a Republican, to investigate, saying the public and Farber were "entitled to an independent, thorough and expeditious review of this incident."

Assemblyman John Rooney (R., Bergen) said he already knew enough to know that Farber "is not a person who should be our chief law enforcement officer." He called the traffic stop "the last straw."

Even fellow Democrats have blasted Farber's driving record, which includes more than a dozen moving violations, three suspensions, and at least one bench warrant. Gov. Jim McGreevey cited that record when he withdrew Farber's name from consideration for a spot on the state Supreme Court in 2003. And at her confirmation hearing this year before the Senate Judiciary Committee, lawmakers said it suggested a disrespect for the law.

Sen. Paul Sarlo (D., Bergen), who voted for Farber at that hearing, said that because of her strong work credentials - which include a stint as the state's public advocate - "we were able to overlook her poor driving record."

"We're disappointed that we're now finding ourselves in this situation," Sarlo said. "Depending on the results of the investigation, we should then determine if the attorney general should come back in to explain what occurred."

Robert Del Tufo, a Democrat and former attorney general who sat with Farber on Corzine's ethics advisory panel, said that he had "every confidence in Zulima" - and that she would be vindicated.

Showing her face at the scene may have been a mistake, he said, but Farber is only human.

"These things are instantaneous decisions," Del Tufo said. "Someone close to you has a problem and your first instinct is to go to help."
Contact staff writer Jennifer Moroz at 609-989-8990 or

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Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.