SOMERVILLE , NJ – Friends and colleagues of outgoing Somerset County Prosecutor Geoffrey Soriano gathered to wish him well yesterday, one day after Gov. Chris Christie opted to replace him with Basking Ridge attorney Michael Robertson, an assistant US attorney who had served under Christie when he was the federal prosecutor in charge of the Newark office.
The impromptu gathering began late in the afternoon Friday at Verve Restaurant & Bistro, across the street from the Somerset County Courthouse and office complex where Soriano has presided over the office since 2011.
He was surrounded by well-wishers, many of whom were still wrestling with the chain of events that led to his dismissal on Thursday, just one day after a group of prominent New Jerseyans, including three former governors, released an open letter that challenges Soriano’s murder/suicide conclusion in the 2014 deaths of a prominent Montgomery couple in the bedroom of their home.
“We’re all crying in our beers,” said state Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman, who was highly critical of Christie’s decision to dismiss Soriano, whom he described as his good friend. Bateman represents Somerset, Middlesex, Hunterdon and Mercer counties.
“You talk to anybody that’s dealt with Geoff - chiefs of police, attorneys, the Women’s Resource Center, any agency that came in touch with him, they all think he is top notch,” Bateman said. “He’s a professional.
“The morale over there, it’s the best it’s ever been,” he said, referring to the prosecutor’s office staff and detectives. “This is just devastating to do this to someone with his credentials. He’s bright, articulate and well-liked.
“I was very disappointed in what the governor did,” Bateman said. “I told him he was wrong. The governor tried to tell me it wasn’t the Sheridan situation. He told me he had lost confidence in Geoff.”
John and Joyce Sheridan were found in the bedroom of their home – where a fire had been set – on Sept. 28, 2014. She had been stabbed 10 times. Her husband was found unresponsive, with five stab wounds, five broken ribs and cuts. He was 72. She was 69.
Following a six-month investigation, Soriano’s office and the state Medical Examiner concluded that Sheridan had killed his wife and then taken his own life.
The couple’s four sons have disputed those findings, saying that their father, the former CEO of Cooper Health Systems in south Jersey, and their mother had a happy marriage of 47 years. They hired private investigators whose conclusions have challenged the official findings.
On Wednesday, the “Friends of John & Joyce Sheridan,” a group of nearly 200 prominent and highly-influential people released their letter. The group includes former Governors Thomas Kean, James J. Florio and Christie Whitman; a former state Supreme Court Justice, two former state attorneys general and a former chief state prosecutor.
In part, it read: “We have long agreed with independent experts and the media that have reviewed the case that there are compelling reasons to question the murder/suicide conclusion reached by the medical examiner and the prosecutor’s office.”
Despite what Christie told him, Bateman is convinced the letter led to the governor’s decision.
“Isn’t it ironic that he received the letter the day before and then all of the sudden the next day he calls to have him removed,” Bateman said.
Bateman confirmed that Soriano has been offered a position with the state Attorney General once he cleans out the desk in his Somerville office that overlooks the Main Street 9/11 Memorial. Robertson is expected to take over on March 7.
“He’s thinking about it, but listen, he got sucker punched. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do. They really haven’t given him a lot of time,” Bateman continued.
Soriano did have a law practice in Somerville, but relinquished it to take on the job as the county’s top law enforcement official.
“It’s hard to re-establish a practice after five, six years,” Bateman said. “Clients go elsewhere.
“He’s very good attorney, he’ll wind up on his feet,” Bateman continued. “This is a setback, but knowing him, he’ll come out of it.”