Stephens sworn-in, officially, as Essex Prosecutor, after serving 5+ years in acting capacity


After a 5+-years of service in an acting capacity, Theodore N. Stephens II was sworn in as the official Essex County Prosecutor Friday, Feb, 16 by Superior Court Judge Mark Ali to serve a five-year term. Stephens had been serving as acting prosecutor since Sept. 4, 2018, when appointed by Gov. Philip D. Murphy.

Stephens’s nomination was advanced by the New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee Feb. 8; four days later, the full state Senate voted unanimously to approve his nomination.

“For the last five and a half years, Essex County Prosecutor Stephens has faithfully and honorably served the residents of Essex County,” Murphy said. “I was proud to appoint him as acting prosecutor in 2018 due to his knowledge of the law, passion for his community and commitment to justice. I am very pleased that Prosecutor Stephens has finally received Senate confirmation and I know that he will continue to lead the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office with distinction over the next five years.”

Additionally, all assistant prosecutors and investigators at the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, who had been serving in acting capacities, were re-sworn, keeping with Stephens’s appointment. Mitchell McGuire, formerly acting chief of detectives, was sworn as chief and Romesh Sukhdeo, formerly acting first assistant prosecutor, was sworn as first assistant prosecutor.

County prosecutors are appointed by the governor with the consent of the Senate for a five-year term. As such, Stephens is the county’s highest-ranking law enforcement official. He oversees approximately 400 employees, which include assistant prosecutors, detectives and support staff.

The ECPO is the busiest prosecutor’s office in the state, the office says, and Stephens will continue to manage a large caseload. In 2023, the office handled more than 12,000 cases. The office also handled more than 1,600 juvenile prosecutions.

“Ted Stephens has served the people of Essex County with honor and distinction during his impressive career in public service, from his time as a municipal court judge, to county surrogate and most recently as acting Essex County prosecutor,” Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin said. “As a resident of Essex County myself, I am thrilled that we will continue to benefit from his passion, commitment and expertise. He has been an incredible partner as we have worked together to combat the epidemic of gun violence, and I look forward to continuing to work with him to make our communities safer. Essex County is home to our state’s largest county prosecutor’s office, and Prosecutor Stephens is the right person to lead it through the complex and challenging work that law enforcement agencies encounter every day.”

Stephens, an East Orange resident, says he firmly believes to be effective, law enforcement agencies must partner with local communities.

Under his guidance, the office expanded Operation Helping Hand, a diversion program in which ECPO staff helps people with opioid addictions find counseling and treatment.

From food-insecurity drives to community health events, to jazz festivals and speaking at schools, the office says it’s committed to interacting with citizens in civic environments — not just in the courtroom. In Stephens’s view, it’s essential to mentor young people.

He says he often talks to local students about careers in law enforcement and the need to do well in school. The ECPO also mentors hundreds of youth through its internship programs for students in high school, college and law school.

In terms of criminal justice, Stephens notes he relies on a multidisciplinary approach, which calls upon the prudent use of diversionary programs and special courts for non-violent offenders.

“For us, that means going wherever the facts and the evidence leads,” Stephens said. “Sometimes that means pressing for a lengthy prison sentence for a defendant, while other times it means getting him or her into diversionary programs such as Recovery Court, Mental Health Court or veterans programs.”

Stephens says he feels immense pride when crime victims and their family members express gratitude to his office. A Newark man whose sister was murdered, for instance, said this about ECPO:

“I don’t have my sister back, but me and my family know that the team at the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office did everything they could to locate and prosecute her killer and give us some sense of justice; for that we are forever grateful to them. The detectives, prosecutors, and staff treated us like family. I’ll never forget what they did for me and my family.”

When he hears testimonials like this from crime victims and their families, Stephens says he’s confident the ECPO is doing outstanding work: “Which is why I’m so deeply honored and humbled to serve as Essex County prosecutor,” he said.

Stephens began his legal career as the Eastern Region Attorney for Unisys Corporation, followed by serving as Corporation Counsel for the City of East Orange. In 1994, he was appointed a judge of the East Orange Municipal Court and in 2004, he was appointed to the bench of the City of Orange Municipal Court. In 2012, he was sworn in as the Essex County Surrogate, where he presided over the Essex County Court. Stephens earned his bachelor’s degree from Glassboro State College, now Rowan University, and a JD from Seton Hall University Law. He is a lifelong New Jersey resident.

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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.