Christopher S. Porrino was nominated to serve as Attorney General of New Jersey on June 16, 2016, and began serving in an acting capacity on June 21, 2016. On August 1, 2016, he was unanimously confirmed by the New Jersey State Senate, and was sworn in as New Jersey's 60th Attorney General on August 2, 2016. Prior to his nomination, Porrino practiced law as a civil and criminal trial attorney, co-chaired the litigation department of a national law firm, and held several high ranking positions in state government.
As Attorney General and head of the Department of Law and Public Safety, Porrino has led a number of significant initiatives, several of which were nationwide firsts.
Opioid Crisis. He has made combating the opioid epidemic a priority, using the department’s broad civil and criminal powers to battle the crisis on all fronts. Under his leadership, the department created and successfully enacted what was then the strictest prescribing rules in the country aimed at curtailing over-dispensing of highly addictive pain medication, and proposed regulations to prevent prescribing physicians from being influenced by gifts and other rewards from pharmaceutical companies. He has aggressively targeted “pill mills” and professionals engaged in indiscriminate prescribing, resulting in more civil and criminal charges filed against medical professionals during his term than during any comparable period in the history of the department. He has also overseen an exponential expansion of the State’s prescription monitoring program (PMP), including implementing mandatory PMP look-ups by prescribers and providing interconnectivity with PMPs from a number of other states.
Criminal Justice (i.e., Bail) Reform. During his tenure, Porrino oversaw the successful implementation of bail reform in New Jersey, perhaps the most significant reform in the history of the state’s criminal justice system. Under this new system, cash bail was largely eliminated. Using a validated risk assessment tool, dangerous and high risk defendants may now be held in custody and can no longer “buy” their way out of jail pending trial. Conversely, those charged with less serious offenses are no longer detained in custody pending trial because their economic circumstances do not permit them to post cash bail.
Violent Crime Reduction. Porrino has targeted violent crime in New Jersey, including gun violence. The department has utilized recent changes to New Jersey’s bail system to seek detention for most gun offenses, has added new witness protection guidelines to be followed by county prosecutors, and has secured collaboration with federal counterparts to seek and obtain the longest sentences possible for violent gun offenders. Most recently, Porrino oversaw the most successful statewide gun buyback in state history, taking almost 5,000 guns out of circulation over a single weekend. In addition, he led a multi-department cooperative effort to address critical public safety issues in Trenton, the state’s capitol city. The initiatives include, among other things, the demolition of abandoned structures and the installation of surveillance cameras at key locations throughout the city.
Corruption. Porrino has made fighting public corruption a focus during his tenure. To help identify potential cases of corruption the office launched an Anti-Corruption Whistleblower Program that encourages eligible individuals to self-report their involvement in criminal activity, and offers a reward of up to $25,000 for tips from the public that lead to a conviction for a crime involving public corruption. In addition to many other corruption prosecutions, the office indicted and convicted Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres of the City of Paterson and three city employees on corruption charges.
Elder Abuse. With elder abuse cases on the rise, his office became the country’s first to loan hidden cameras to citizens that suspect elder abuse. The “Safe Care Cam Program” gives participants the opportunity to covertly observe the care being given to their loved ones, and thereby either give them comfort that the level of care is appropriate, or else help them detect and stop ongoing abuse.
Child Protection. Announcing early in his term that child protection measures would be a priority of the department under his leadership, Porrino has advanced several important child protection measures. In 2016, he drafted and then shepherded legislation that strengthened child protection statutes and increased penalties for those engaged in child pornography, and criminalized “child erotica” for the first time in New Jersey. The department has also aggressively investigated and prosecuted persons who violate the child protection laws, which efforts include “Operation Statewide,” a statewide sweep that resulted in the arrest of forty men on charges of child pornography.
Distracted Driving. With traffic deaths along New Jersey’s roads rising, Porrino spearheaded a distracted driving campaign to encourage the public to report violations through the state’s #77 hotline. The #77 program was expanded in April 2017 in response to the burgeoning numbers of distracted drivers. The new initiative opened up #77 to callers reporting drivers using cell phones or otherwise driving distracted. The New Jersey State Police has sent warning letters to those reported. The letters inform motorists that their vehicles have been spotted being driven dangerously or by a distracted driver, and warns them of the penalties if caught by police. During the first few months of the new initiatives, more than 2,000 calls were tracked.
Civil Rights and Diversity. With bias crimes and incidents on the rise, Porrino and the department have aggressively prosecuted civil rights violations and acts of discrimination during his tenure. Cases include an international hotel chain accused of allowing unequal pay for women, an employer who fired a woman for taking maternity leave, entities that placed discriminatory housing ads on Craigslist, and a landlord who refused to rent to Muslims. These efforts complement the department’s commitment to continuing education for law enforcement on cultural awareness and implicit bias. With more than 20% of the state’s bias and hate crimes being committed by young people, his office is also developing anti-bias training for school students. In another first, Porrino created and filled the position of Chief Diversity Officer to oversee and promote diversity in the department.
Police/Community Relations. Working to improve trust between police and the communities they serve, Porrino created the first ever community policing award program to encourage community policing efforts and share best practices. The department thereafter implemented the first statewide community policing grant program, named in honor of fallen police officer Matthew Tarentino. In the fall of 2016, the department created and mandated the first ever statewide continuing education curriculum to train police on de-escalation, cultural awareness, and implicit bias. In the fall of 2017, the department plans to launch an educational “Safe Stop” campaign focused on helping communities understand their rights and the law when interacting with law enforcement.
Juvenile Justice Reform. New Jersey serves as the national model for statewide implementation of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s detention reform program, which has resulted in drastic reductions in populations at juvenile correctional facilities throughout the state. Delegations from across the country have traveled to New Jersey to learn how it has reduced the state’s detention population by 60% since the implementation of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI). Continuing these reforms, under Porrino’s leadership the JJC has undergone a process to examine its facilities, incorporating the latest research in adolescent brain development and proven rehabilitative efforts (such as the broad implementation of trauma informed care). The department has also focused on a reduction in the use of room restriction or isolation, and advances in family engagement, while enhancing and expanding community based services.
Public Communication. At Porrino’s direction, the department began sharing information and providing other public updates through social media, such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for the first time in its history. These efforts increased transparency into the operations of the department and have provided real-time information sharing and feedback for and from members of the public.
From January 2014 through July 2015, Porrino served as Chief Counsel to Governor Christie. On his first day as Chief Counsel, the matter known as “Bridgegate” broke in the news media. As Chief Counsel, Porrino navigated the Governor’s Office through that crisis and the myriad legal issues that followed. In that role, he also had broad responsibility overseeing appointments, legislative matters, and all state authorities. He worked closely with Governor Christie and members of the Legislature from both sides of the aisle to secure the passage of numerous pieces of critical legislation, including the Criminal Justice Reform Act (i.e., bail reform).
Before serving as Chief Counsel to the Governor, Porrino served as Director of the Division of Law in the Attorney General’s Office. As Director of the Division of Law from February 2012 to January 2014, Porrino oversaw a team of 800 state employees, 500 of whom were lawyers. Under his leadership the Division of Law achieved important outcomes in historic litigation, including the landmark Harvey Cedars “dunes” case, which Porrino argued before the state Supreme Court. The Harvey Cedars decision in 2013 paved the way for the state’s shore protection and dune construction projects that followed.
Prior to his government service, Porrino most recently was a partner and co-chair of Lowenstein Sandler’s national litigation department, where he focused on criminal and civil trial practice. During his tenure at Lowenstein Sandler, Porrino represented clients in a wide array of matters involving securities, banking, insurance, tax, antitrust, real estate, and the environment, among others. He began his legal career as a law clerk to then-Magistrate Judge Freda L. Wolfson, U.S. District Judge for the District of New Jersey.
As Attorney General, Porrino has been recognized by various organizations for his leadership. He received the Ner Tamid, Eternal Light Award from the Chabad House – Lubavitch, 2016; the Achievement Award from the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) for “Bridging the Gap between Communities and Police,” 2017; and the Public Servant Award from Seton Hall University School of Law, 2017. Porrino makes every effort to mentor new attorneys, encouraging them to build their reputations as leaders, to be “doers” in their communities, and to persevere when times get tough.
A resident of Union County, Porrino graduated from Lehigh University and received his law degree from Seton Hall University School of Law. He is admitted to the bars of the State of New Jersey and the State of New York, and is admitted to practice in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, and the U.S. Court of Appeals, Third Circuit.