Luis A. Valentin gets official Monmouth County welcome

New prosecutor sworn in at Monmouth University

BY SUE M. MORGAN Staff Writer

New prosecutor sworn in at Monmouth University’s Wilson Hall
Staff Writer

WEST LONG BRANCH – Last Thursday night was a dream come true for Luis A. Valentin, as he was sworn in to be the newest Monmouth County prosecutor in the same building at the university bearing the moniker of the county he now calls home.

Minutes after Valentin, 39, took the oath administered by acting Gov. Richard Codey, the Manalapan resident and recent Essex County transplant shared his wish with more than 250 guests gathered inside Wilson Hall’s elegant ballroom, some of whom helped pull the strings to help him land his newest post.

Becoming a county prosecutor in New Jersey has been Valentin’s career goal since he was a youth growing up in a Hispanic community in Newark, guided by his immigrant parents.

“Thank you for the realization of a lifelong goal,” Valentin said. “I am living proof that dreams can come true, that aspiration can become reality, and that opportunity can be provided by men and women who are courageous, brave, and firm in their convictions.”

As he assumed his new duties after 15 years of public service, most recently as the chief of the Violent Crimes Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark, Valentin pledged to “restore integrity to public office” as a means of honoring those who showed faith in his abilities.

Drawing upon that background as well as his tenure in the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office and his academic training as an attorney, Valentin also promised to deal with all forms of crime, ranging from drug use, gang violence, child abuse and sexual assault to fraud and official misconduct.

Nominated to the post on June 20 by Codey and confirmed by the New Jersey Senate 10 days later, Valentin succeeds retired Monmouth County Prosecutor John H. Kaye, who served for more than 21 years in office.

Valentin’s first day of work was Monday, just three days after state Superior Court Judge Lawrence Lawson administered the oath of office during a smaller ceremony held Friday morning at the county courthouse in Freehold.

The new prosecutor will move into a spot temporarily occupied by First Assistant Monmouth County Prosecutor Robert Honecker, who led the office temporarily after Kaye left earlier this year. Honecker will return to his previous duties under Valentin’s supervision.

Upon assuming his new job with a starting salary of $141,000 yearly, Valentin expects to meet with all of his staff to outline a direction for the Prosecutor’s Office, which is

the county’s top law enforcement entity.

During a post-ceremony press conference in Wilson Hall, Valentin declined to elaborate on any specific changes in staffers’ duties or responsibilities under his leadership until after meeting with those employees.

However, he did acknowledge that some changes could be coming.

“New leadership brings new ideas and inevitably change,” Valentin said. “That will be based upon what is in the best interest of the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office.”

Though Valentin, his wife, Lisette Castelo-Valentin, and two daughters only relocated to Manalapan earlier this year, the new prosecutor indicated that he has been trying to familiarize himself with his new surroundings and the county’s residents.

Through such outreach, Valentin stressed that he wants to be a “visible prosecutor” who is “receptive to their concerns.”

Standing at the podium upon a raised platform in the Wilson Hall ballroom, Valentin especially thanked Codey and state Sens. Ellen M. Karcher (D-12), Joseph M. Kyrillos Jr. (R-13) and Joseph A. Palaia (R-11) for their support of his nomination.

As Codey sat with the other elected officials as well as U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie, John F. DeBartolo, president of the Monmouth County Bar Association, U.S. District Judge Jose L. Linares and Monmouth University President Paul G. Gaffney II, Valentin recalled how the acting governor telephoned him with news of his nomination.

“You have provided me with a unique opportunity to fulfill a lifetime goal,” Valentin said. “Thank you for the opportunity you have bestowed upon me.”

He particularly singled out Karcher, who represents Manalapan, for “leading the charge for my nomination.”

In her own remarks, Karcher, a first-term state senator, expressed her own appreciation to Codey for keeping her in the loop when the opportunity to choose a new prosecutor arose.

With “an epidemic of public corruption” making headlines in Monmouth County, coupled by the ongoing threats of terrorism at home, identity theft, child abuse and gang violence, Karcher recalled how she sought to get involved in the process.

“This time for the first time in over two decades, we had the challenge of finding a new county prosecutor,” Karcher said. “And we had the small challenge of a new senator who wanted to do things a little bit differently.”

While the process “was not always seamless, together, we arrived at the best possible solution for Monmouth County in 2005, our new prosecutor, Mr. Luis Valentin,” Karcher said.

In appointing Valentin, who will be the state’s first prosecutor of Hispanic lineage, Codey recognized the need for diversity in law enforcement and institutions in general, she added.

In short, Valentin, with his background in federal prosecution, will help restore the trust of county residents whose faith in public officials and law has been shaken by reports of corruption.

“Prosecutor Valentin will make this a place we can be glad to call home,” Karcher said.

Christie, who supervised Valentin for more than three of the 7 1/2 years with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, called his employee’s departure from that office “bittersweet.”

“Lou Valentin is a man of boundless energy,” said Christie, whose office along with the FBI has led the federal investigation into public corruption in the county and state.

The new prosecutor also exhibits an integrity that shows he understands the difference between “right and wrong” and “good and evil.”

Valentin always takes the moral high ground, Christie said.

“When confronted with the choice between what is right and what is easy, he will choose what is right,” Christie said.

Castelo-Valentin, an attorney, served as mistress of ceremonies for the nearly 90-minute ceremony held in what Gaffney referred to as “the home of Daddy Warbucks,” in reference to the movie filmed inside Wilson Hall.

In a heartwarming moment, Valentin’s daughters, Karina Nicole, 7, and Alexis Mia, 4, led the guests in the Pledge of Allegiance. Along with their mother, the two girls held the Bible for their father as Codey read the oath.

A graduate of Seton Hall University, South Orange, Valentin earned his law degree from Rutgers University School of Law in Newark in 1989. He is a member of the New Jersey Bar and the U.S. District Courts for the District of New Jersey. A member of both the Hispanic National Bar Association and the Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey, Valentin is a recipient of the U.S. Department of Justice Director’s Award for Excellence.