Hunterdon County Prosecutor Anthony P. Kearns III has announced he is stepping down to take a position with the Diocese of Metuchen.
Both Kearns and Bishop James F. Checchio of the diocese issued statements announcing the move on March 1.
“It has been my privilege and honor to serve the people of Hunterdon County as their chief law enforcement officer,” Kearns said in a statement.
The resignation becomes effective Friday, April 12, after nine years in the position. Kearns notified state and local officials, including Gov. Phillip D. Murphy and state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, before his public announcement.
It was not immediately known who Gov. Murphy would nominate to succeed Kearns as Hunterdon County prosecutor. In New Jersey, the county prosecutor is a county’s highest-ranking law enforcement officer.
In his statement, Kearns thanked his office staff. “They are an extraordinary group of people. It has been my pleasure and honor to serve the people of Hunterdon with them.”
As Chancellor, Kearns will be the third highest ranking official in the diocese and will advise Checchio.
The bishop said Kearns was chosen after careful consideration and was the person best suited for the position. “Tony has a broad skill set and will bring much knowledge and experience to the position, which I anticipate will lead to many contributions to our local church,” Checchio said.
The diocese was formed in 1981 and serves Hunterdon, Middlesex, Somerset and Warren counties in New Jersey.
Kearns said his decision resign came after the bishop offered him the job.
Kearns also said he will return to private law practice via his own law firm. Kearns said he’s had more than 12 years of public service and has also had more than seven years experience as a therapist in the mental health field.
“As I look back on my years in the prosecutor’s office, I am most proud of the office I leave behind and of the many partnerships and programs we introduced to help preserve the quality of life we enjoy throughout Hunterdon.”
His new role, Kearns will serve as a key member of Checchio’s core team.
He will oversee the corporate structures of the diocese; supervise multiple diocesan directors and their related offices, including oversight of the Office of Child and Youth Protection and the Office of the Diocesan General Counsel; provide support to Catholic schools and Catholic Social Services in the diocese; and oversee the maintenance of archives and records, according to the bishop’s statement.
“What has impressed me about Tony, since the first time I met him, is his active faith and dedication to our church,” Checchio said. “I am deeply grateful that Tony has accepted this appointment and am especially grateful for his personal faith and integrity as a Catholic citizen.”
Kearns was appointed as prosecutor in 2010, by then Gov. Chris Christie, succeeding Dermott O’Grady, a deputy attorney general who was acting prosecutor in the wake of Prosecutor J. Patrick Barnes’ resignation. Barnes resigned abruptly amid controversy and lawsuits that plagued his tenure.
Gov. James McGreevey nominated Barnes in 2002 to replace previous prosecutor Stephen Rubin, who had been appointed as a N.J. State Superior Court judge that year.
Before his prosecutorial appointment, Kearns worked at the law firm of Rylak and Gianos in Clinton, N.J., and was elevated to partner in 2005.
A native of Hunterdon County and the Diocese of Metuchen, Kearns lives in Clinton with his wife and four children and is a parishioner of Immaculate Conception in the Annandale section of Clinton Township.
“I leave to serve in other roles with other missions. However, in these new roles of private attorney and in service to the Diocese of Metuchen,” he said, “my purpose and resolve remain the same – truth and justice.”