Essex County Prosecutor
Theodore N. Stephens, II was sworn in on Feb. 16, 2024, Superior Court Judge Mark Ali to serve a five-year term as Essex County Prosecutor. Stephens had served as acting prosecutor since September 4, 2018, when appointed by Governor Murphy.
On February 8, Stephens’s nomination was advanced by the New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee; on February 12 the full Senate voted unanimously to approve his nomination as Essex County Prosecutor.
“For the last five and a half years, County Prosecutor Stephens has faithfully and honorably served the residents of Essex County,” said Governor Murphy. “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.”
Also on Feb. 16, all assistant prosecutors and investigators at the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office who had been serving in acting capacities were re-sworn, in 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.
A county prosecutor is appointed by the governor with the consent of the Senate for a five-year term. As prosecutor, Stephens is the county’s highest-ranking law enforcement official. He oversees approximately 400 employees, which include assistant prosecutors, detectives and support staff. The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office (ECPO) is the busiest prosecutor’s office in the state, and Stephens will continue to manage a demanding 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,” said Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin.
“As a resident of Essex County myself,” continued Platkin, “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, firmly believes that to be effective, law enforcement agencies must partner with local communities. He expanded Operation Helping Hand, a diversion program in which ECPO staff helps people with opioid addictions find counseling and treatment. The goal of the program, sponsored by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, is to
interrupt the cycle of addiction that often leads addicts down the path of incarceration.
From food-insecurity drives to community health events, to jazz festivals and speaking at schools, the office is also committed to interacting with citizens in civic environments – not just in the courtroom. In Stephens’s view, it’s essential to mentor young people. Stephens often talks to local students about careers in law enforcement and the need to do well in school. 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 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,” said Stephens. “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.”
In essence, ECPO’s mission is to seek and serve justice, and Stephens 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 family members, Stephens knows 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 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. Governor Murphy then appointed him to serve as Acting Essex County Prosecutor in September 2018.
Stephens earned his bachelor’s degree from Glassboro State College, now Rowan University, and a juris doctor degree from Seton Hall University School of Law. He is a lifelong resident of New Jersey.