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Close of Business: Local Justice

by Erica Bauwens

Acting Attorney General John Jay Hoffman, a Marlton local and Jersey native, is shaping the legal and economic future of the state.

The last few months have seen more than the average share of change in New Jersey’s state administration. The usual pre-election news was overshadowed by the passing of Sen. Frank Lautenberg, the 89-year-old political powerhouse who headed monumental public transportation and environmental legislation during his almost 30 years of service.

After Lautenberg’s death, then-Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa stepped up to take his place until a special October election, appointing Marlton’s John Jay Hoffman as the current acting attorney general. Hoffman had been serving as the executive assistant attorney general since 2012. Prior to that, he served as an assistant U.S. attorney for New Jersey, focusing on economic and white collar criminal prosecutions. From 1996 to 2004, he was a trial attorney for the Civil Division of the U.S. Dept. of Justice in Washington, D.C., and also worked in private practice in the nation’s capital.

We talked with Hoffman about his recent promotion and his plans to improve South Jersey for both businesses and consumers.

SOUTH JERSEY BIZ: How does it feel to be the new Attorney General?
JOHN JAY HOFFMAN: I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still pinch myself every morning. It’s a little cliché, but it’s incredibly humbling and such an honor. It’s exciting and fascinating to see what the Attorney General’s Office does. For someone who comes from my background, it’s one of the biggest honors that I can accomplish.

BIZ: Will you be focusing on Chiesa’s former initiatives?
JH: The senator’s initiatives were all of our initiatives. We all worked very closely together, so I feel like I’m already incredibly invested in them.

BIZ: What are your primary goals?
JH: I do want to make sure that I spend a lot of time focusing on our environmental enforcement efforts, make sure we are holding businesses accountable. On the criminal side, we are going to focus on human trafficking, child pornography, political corruption. I want to focus on gun buybacks and the corruption that resulted from Superstorm Sandy. I want to make sure that people can’t take advantage of the disadvantaged. Now we’ve turned our attention on home improvement contractors to make sure that they aren’t taking advantage of those who are desperate to get their lives back in orders.

BIZ: How do these initiatives impact the business climate in New Jersey?
JH: The vast majority of businesses in New Jersey are fair and operate within the legal framework. They want to be on a level playing field and compete, and the consumer and anti-crime initiatives are very positive for the climate; they help remove those that don’t want to compete on an even playing field. The safety to operate in New Jersey will be enhanced.

BIZ: What led you to focus on economic and fraud cases?
JH: I very much enjoyed, probably since I was very young, putting together big puzzles, and a lot of those cases are very similar to those big puzzles. I liked to put these cases together and then simplify it to teach it to a jury; it’s just fun to me. I also was always particularly offended by individuals who had gotten a lot out of society and had been given every advantage, and then use their experience and knowledge negatively. I thought those people had to pay the social cost of the ills that they created.

BIZ: What have some of your most memorable cases been?
JH: As a federal prosecutor, one of my last cases was the most interesting. It was an international debt bank fraud case. We chased people all around the country and into Canada. We were able to prosecute all 17 defendants and were able to get all of the money, about $60 to $80 million, back to the victims. To say it felt good doesn’t do it justice.

BIZ: Do you hope to continue on as Attorney General?
JH: I am going to work incredibly hard every day on this job and I’m sure that if I give this job my best effort, then my career will work itself out.

BIZ: South Jersey doesn’t have too many natives in the state administration. Why do you think that is?
JH: We are around, we may be harder to find, but we are around. I think that the governor was able to establish some close relationships with professionals up in Newark that live and operate out of New Jersey. But at the same time, the population plays a role in that. But when he finds a good South Jerseyan, he sticks with them, and I know I’ve been keeping my eye on my neighbors.

BIZ: What was it that brought you from D.C. to New Jersey?
JH: The short answer is that I fell in love with a Jersey girl. I was raised in Edison, and when we were deciding where we could live, the chance to come back to Jersey was something I couldn’t turn down. The state climbs into your soul in a strange kind of way and you can’t ever leave it, no matter how far you go.

BIZ: You travel all across New Jersey, but what do you like to do when you get some time at home?
JH: My wife and I are fortunate enough to live right off a golf course, and there’s nothing that makes me happier than taking my 3-year-old out to teach him how to hit a golf ball. We love the area. I think it’s underrated, especially when you look at the restaurants around South Jersey, like La Locanda [in Voorhees] and Fuji [in Haddonfield]. I used to live in Japan for three years and I love Fuji; it’s actually pretty authentic compared to what I had in Japan. Besides that, we like to go to the farmers markets, and we love take our little boy over to the Flying W in Medford to eat breakfast and watch the planes take off.

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 3, Issue 7 (July, 2013).
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