Lenahan sworn in as prosecutor

Friday, August 01, 2003
Article courtesy Today's Sunbeam newspaper

SALEM -- John T. Lenahan, whose career has taken him from the classrooms of West Point to the municipal courts of Salem County, became the county prosecutor Thursday.

At a nearly hour-long ceremony in the county courthouse, Lenahan took the oath of office with his wife, Cindy, and sons, Scott and Sean, by his side.

In his remarks, Lenahan said the county faced its share of crimes: Shootings, home invasions, gangs, drugs and domestic violence.

He called for the prosecutor's office to reach out to churches, community leaders and organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and volunteer groups. And he said the office would "build bridges" with the state police and work closely with them and local law enforcement.

"Only if we work together can we make Salem County a better place to live, a better place to work and a better place to raise our families," he said.

The courtroom was full of his family and friends, who gave Lenahan two standing ovations. Among the guests were state Attorney General Peter C. Harvey, state Sen. Stephen M. Sweeney, D-3rd Dist., Assemblymen John Burzichelli and Doug Fisher, both D-3rd Dist., county freeholders and a who's who of law enforcement officials from the state, county and local levels.

Harvey spoke of Lenahan's "quiet strength" and "humility."

In June, Lenahan was nominated by Gov. James E. McGreevey for the post. Last month, the state Senate confirmed the appointment.

Sweeney recalled how Lenahan's appointment came up for a vote at the very last minute before the Legislature went into summer recess.

"It's a tough job," Sweeney said, "but we've got the right guy."

Lenahan, 46, replaced John E. Bergh, who retired earlier this week. He has a five-year term and is paid $141,000 annually.

Several former county prosecutors attended Thursday. Frank J. Hoerst III, who served between 1983 and 1991, offered simple advice: Don't be afraid of the criticism that comes with the job.

As the top law enforcement officer in the county, Lenahan oversees a department of 34 employees and a budget of approximately $2 million.

To the employees of the department, he urged, "Stay with me."

"Together we can make a difference," Lenahan said. "Together we can have an impact."

But he takes over a prosecutor's office that twice failed to win a conviction in one of its biggest cases: the trial of Kenneth Powell. The prosecutor's office charged Powell for a fatal drunken-driving accident in which he was not directly involved.

The trial, which attracted national media attention, twice ended in a mistrial, the latest coming in February.

With Lenahan, the county has a homegrown prosecutor. He attended Woodstown High School, starring as an athlete on the baseball team. In 1974, in his junior year, he pitched coach Lee R. Ware to the first of his 466 victories.

"He made me look good many years ago, and he'll make me look good today," said Ware, the master of ceremonies and county freeholder.

Lenahan graduated from the U.S. Military Academy, taking his place along the "long gray line" that includes such alumni as Grant, Eisenhower and Patton.

He earned a master's at Central Michigan University and later his law degree at Widener University School of Law.

He has been the solicitor and or municipal prosecutor for municipalities across the county, most recently in Alloway, Pittsgrove, Salem and Woodstown. Known to his friends by his nickname, "Jiggs," he was a member of a law firm, Lenahan, Telsey and Puma, based in Salem.

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