March 29, 2001 (TRENTON, N.J.) – State Supreme Court Justice Peter Verniero spent 13 hours in the hot seat testifying before a legislative committee investigating racial profiling by New Jersey state troopers.
Verniero, the former attorney general, was the final witness in four days of hearings. He was grilled Wednesday about the timing of his acknowledgement that police had been targeting minority motorists for stops.
. Critics say that Verniero ignored or tried to hide evidence of profiling for two years, only changing his stance when a shooting on the New Jersey Turnpike dramatized the issue. Two troopers are awaiting trial for firing into a van they had pulled over, wounding three young men who were traveling to a basketball clinic in North Carolina.
During his testimony, Verniero said he may have been misled by his respect for the state police. He said that as attorney general he had to function both as the agency’s supervisor, as the head of a legal agency defending the work of the state police in court and as the head of an agency prosecuting troopers accused of wrongdoing.
Under the New Jersey Constitution, Verniero must be reconfirmed by the state Senate after seven years on the Supreme Court. The profiling issue almost derailed his confirmation in 1999, and the issue is expected to come up again.