By Jennifer Peacock and Chris Lundy
OCEAN COUNTY – Gov. Phil Murphy is rumored to announce his replacement for Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato.
New Jersey Globe cited an unnamed source as saying Murphy’s choice is Bradley Billhimer, 48, a Toms River lawyer and former Democrat candidate for State Assembly.
As of now, there has been no official word from the governor’s office on his choice.
Coronato released a statement Tuesday in reference to online articles about his replacement. The prosecutor’s office has not received any official word of this.
He said that he fully expected to be replaced at some point. However, he hopes he will be given a few months to complete initiatives he has begun.
Coronato has been active on a number of fronts, including the opioid crisis in the county. He will testify Thursday in Washington, D.C. as part of a House hearing about holding China accountable for the production of fentanyl. Fentanyl is often mixed with heroin, making the drug more potent and deadly.
Ocean County officials have pushed for Coronato, appointed by Gov. Chris Christie back in 2013, to stay on the job, saying he has led the charge in the fight against the raging opioid addiction gripping the state, with Ocean County considered ground zero.
The Ocean County Freeholders, the county’s Police Chiefs Association and Association of School Board Administrators, and a county-wide initiative headed by police chaplain James Occhipinti, had asked back in February that Murphy let the prosecutor finish what he’s started.
“This really represents an extraordinary outpouring of support from law enforcement, community itself, and from community organizations, that reflect the prosecutor’s distinguished service to Ocean County,” Freeholder Director Gerry P. Little said at a Feb. 7 freeholder meeting. “This board is requesting Gov. Murphy to consider Joe Coronato for reappointment as Ocean County Prosecutor.”
County prosecutors are appointed by the governor for five-year terms and affirmed by the state senate.
Sen. Bob Singer (R-Ocean), while stating during a radio interview that he’d rather see Coronato stay, if the governor wants to replace the prosecutor with a Democrat, Steve Secare, another Toms River attorney, is Singer’s choice.
A call to Billhimer’s law office was not returned as of press time.