Top Republican’s law firm says it will ‘discredit’ sexual assault accusers. Murphy calls it ‘disgusting.’

Updated Oct 11, 2019

The highestState Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, R-Union, is pictured at the Statehouse in Trenton earlier this year.


The highest-ranking Republican in the New Jersey Assembly faced backlash Thursday after it came to light his law firm promises to help clients who say they’re wrongly accused of sexual assault by seeking to “discredit” their accusers.

The vow comes in a section titled “Sexual Assault on the website of Scotch Plains firm Bramnick, Rodriguez, Grabas, Arnold & Mangan — where Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick is a partner.

In a pitch to potential clients, the firm says it understands people accuse others of such crimes “because of hurt feelings, or in anger over breaking up or even confusion over what actually happened.”

“Maybe you, as the one charged, may have believed the sexual act was consensual," the website says. "Maybe you were unknowingly drugged and did not have the capacity to control your behavior, let alone to form a criminal intent.”

“We will investigate your case and seek to discredit your accuser,” it continues.

The wording was first reported by New Jersey Globe on Thursday.

When questioned about it, Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, called the comments “disgusting” and said Bramnick should “explain himself.” One advocate for sexual assault victims said the website is pushing “harmful, lazy stereotypes” and shows why many victims stay silent.

Bramnick, a member of the Assembly since 2003, said he didn’t write the language but defended the firm’s stance, stressing it applies to people who are face false allegations.

“If someone lies about a client, a professional criminal defense lawyer has to cross examine,” Bramnick, R-Union, told NJ Advance Media. “That’s what professional criminal defense lawyers do.”

A criminal defense attorney at the firm, Michael Noriega, echoed that sentiment, saying he thinks the criticism of the site is “unfair” and “unfortunate.”

“As criminal defense attorneys, our job is to defend our clients zealously,” Noriega told NJ Advance Media. “If an accuser is lying, we have an obligation constitutionally to defend that right and to discover the truth of the case.”

But that section was pulled from the website sometime Thursday night.

The controversy comes less than a month before Bramnick and his running mate, Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, are up for re-election to represent North Jersey’s 21st legislative district in a tight Nov. 5 race against two Democratic women, Lisa Mandelblatt and Stacey Gunderman.

Bramnick and Munoz narrowly won their last re-election bid, in 2017. And Democrats believe this time they can flip the district, which includes parts of Morris, Somerset, and Union counties.

Patricia Teffenhart, the executive director of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said Bramnick’s firm is "relying on harmful, lazy stereotypes about survivors of sexual violence."

“And let us be even clearer: This is the type of conduct that makes survivors stay silent,” Teffenhart said in a statement.

“We believe all parties are entitled to legal representation," she added. “But statements from the outset that attorneys at Bramnick Law will ‘investigate your case and seek to discredit your accuser’ seem to assume all survivors of sexual violence are lying. We know that’s not true; overwhelmingly, research has shown that false reports are the exception, not the rule.”

Teffenhart also said sexual violence “isn’t about ‘hurt feelings’ — we are talking about severe emotional, physical, psychological, and financial harm.”

“It’s not about someone feeling jilted ‘over breaking up.’ It doesn’t matter if someone ‘believed the sexual act was consensual’ if they were actively causing harm to someone,” she added. “Sexual violence is not about sex — it’s about power and control.”

Nancy Erika Smith, a Montclair-based employment attorney, said “women frequently keep silent about sexual assault because our culture blames the victim not the perpetrator.”

Murphy was asked about the firm’s website during an unrelated news conference in Trenton The governor said he had only read about the website and hadn’t actually seen the wording.

“But if that’s true, it’s disgusting and unacceptable,” Murphy said.

“This is America. Everybody’s allowed to have representation," he added. "But we spend so much of our energy to make New Jersey the survivor state, to see that has taken my breath away.”

“If it’s true, he has to explain himself," Murphy continued. "Because that’s way, way out of line.”

Murphy’s administration has been dogged for nearly a year about how the governor’s top aides responded to allegations that a top staffer raped a supporter during Murphy’s 2017 campaign. The staffer stayed in his government job for months after Murphy’s inner circle was alerted about the accusations.

When Katie Brennan made her story public last October, Murphy implemented changes on how the state government reacts to sexual assault allegations. An internal report Murphy commissioned cleared his aides of wrongdoing. A separate report by state lawmakers said Murphy’s aides mishandled the response to Brennan’s allegations.

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