Prosecutor Francis Koch retires after 8 years

Francis Koch has undoubtedly been ‘all in’ when it came to holidays and family events with his wife and three children, but as Sussex County’s top law enforcement officer, there had several times where he was taken out for work.

“When that phone rang, I had to answer it, whether it’s on the shore or at Disney, you have to be able to handle it,” Koch said by phone this week.

But Koch, while admitting the role of county attorney was taxing on him and his family, says he feels a sense of pride as he steps away after serving eight years in the most rewarding job he’s ever had. had.

Koch, who was sworn in as Sussex County prosecutor in June 2014 and served 25 years in law enforcement, retired effective July 1. His last day was June 30.

“I’ve been blessed to be able to do this job for almost my entire career,” Koch said, adding that he was grateful to those close to him who stood by him, despite the pressure it put on them.

Koch said his plans focus on a “real” retirement to spend quality time with his family and that he plans to stay in Sussex County at least while his wife, Mary Frances, works as a teacher. He looks forward to spending time with her as well as his children, who are all at different stages of their lives: his daughter Aileen just got engaged, so wedding planning is in the near future, his son, Dylan, got married and bought a new home and his youngest son, Garett, will be preparing for his next phase after graduating from college.

Koch is not one to bask in his accomplishments and was often a low-key, yet powerful presence at the helm. Over the phone Wednesday, the career prosecutor spent a lot of time praising the team he oversaw at the Sussex County prosecutor’s office that included nearly 50 full-time staff, from assistant investigators and prosecutors to legal secretaries.

Stating that it was his “privilege” to run the office, Koch noted that “from detectives to assistant prosecutors to support staff, in my opinion, have no equal.”

“I describe our office as a family that sometimes has differences, and we walk through them and come together to get the job done, right and just,” he said. And as a team charged with investigating and prosecuting criminal offenses, Koch said he understands the importance of justice and fairness, not just convictions.

“It’s a huge responsibility,” Koch said, referring to the role of the people in his office, “and it’s not something they should fear, but something they should understand and treat with respect. We have people’s lives, sometimes or at least a period of time, in our hands.

Photo by Amy Paterson/New Jersey Herald - Assistant District Attorney Francis Koch questions Sparta Police Chief Ernest Reigstad about a sawed-off shotgun that ballistics say was used to kill Alan Thropp in November 2006 during the trial of Daniel Thropp.

Koch also called it an honor to work with “some of the best and brightest” law enforcement officers in the state and admired the county’s unique diversity, where the size of municipal police departments range from the most large of Sparta with about 30 officers at Ogdensburg with six, including the chief. The New Jersey State Police covers approximately 50% of the county. He also expressed his gratitude to Chief of Detectives Thomas McCormick, whose more than 40 years of law enforcement experience has led other counties to call on his expertise.

“Despite all these differences and the areas they cover, [our law enforcement departments] work together and collaborate and corroborate with each other whenever necessary and [are there to] help each other,” Koch said.

Koch, who technically worked under First Assistant District Attorney Gregory Mueller between 2009 and 2014, called his colleague an incredible adviser and adviser to him as well as a formidable advocate for the county. Mueller will remain in his post.

Mueller and Koch praised each other for their outstanding presence and skills in the courtroom, almost echoing each other’s sentiments.

“Francis had a legendary career,” Mueller recalled Thursday. “He rose through the ranks as a county attorney, a rare achievement anywhere in the state of New Jersey.”

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In New Jersey, the governor appoints a county attorney and the state senate approves him or her for a five-year term. Koch was appointed by the Governor at the time. Chris Christie in May 2014, was confirmed in June of the same year and sworn in later that month, succeeding outgoing prosecutor David Weaver, who now serves as a state Superior Court judge in the Morris/Sussex neighborhood. Koch thanked Governor Phil Murphy for allowing him to remain in reserve for an additional three years.

Koch, as Mueller noted, was elected 2018 president of the New Jersey County Attorneys Association and throughout his tenure as Sussex Prosecutor, was involved in several major changes to the criminal justice system, including criminal justice reform and the implementation of safe schools initiatives. He worked closely with the Center for Prevention and Counseling and was key in the creation of the CLEAR programme, a collaboration of Sussex County Police advocates who helped facilitate options for those struggling. with substance use disorders.

Koch also served for eight years on the board of directors of Ginnie’s House Children’s Advocacy Center in Newton, which provides a place for abused children to seek help and counseling to enable them to heal. Ginnie’s House was opened in the 1990s by Virginia “Ginnie” Littell, the former chairwoman of the New Jersey Republican State Committee whose husband, Robert, was the longest-serving lawmaker in New Jersey history when he took his retired in 2007.

Sussex County Attorney Francis A. Koch speaks during the Sussex County Drug Court graduation ceremony at the Sussex County Community College Performing Arts Center on Wednesday, October 23, 2019 , to Newton.

The center holds a special place in Koch’s heart: He considers his 11 years as an assistant district attorney in the child physical and sexual abuse unit to be among the most defining moments of his life.

Koch recalled a case involving a child victim of sexual abuse and a time when he met the little girl and her family on their way to the Sussex County Courthouse for sentencing.

When the girl saw Koch, she said, “Talk about the devil,” a reference to the family who just mentioned him in conversation, and Koch said he turned to the girl and said: “Really, the devil? I was a little better than that.”

The child without hesitation, Koch recalls, looked at him and replied, “Mr. Koch, you are my guardian angel.”

The moment is ingrained in his brain, he said, and served as a “guiding light and inspiration to do more.”

Mueller said Koch earned multiple victim advocacy awards — Koch humbly did not discuss them — was a strong advocate for recovery and well-being in the county and always cared deeply about those he worked with.

“He’s served the office and the county extremely well,” Mueller said. “It was an honor and a pleasure to work for him.”

Koch received his undergraduate degree from Rutgers University in 1987 and graduated from Seton Hall Law School in 1990. He served as a city prosecutor for a short time before being hired by Sussex County District Attorney Dolores Blackburn, to whom he expresses his gratitude, in January 1998. .

Photo Submitted - Sussex County Attorney Francis Koch, left, is sworn in as president of the New Jersey County Attorneys Association by Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, right.  In the center is Koch's wife, Mary Frances Koch.

While he wouldn’t say “never” to another law firm in the future, Koch said that wasn’t in the immediate plans. Right now it’s all about family.

Equally important is the time Koch said he would spend with his 92-year-old parents, Paul and Helen, who he says were his inspiration. He looks forward to hitting the golf course with his dad every other week and spending time cooking up new family recipes with his mom.

“Now I am once again the son of Paul and Helen Koch and the father of Aileen, Dillon and Garett,” Koch said. “These are the titles I’m most proud of and the ones that I think define who I am.”

And now Koch can choose whether or not he wants to answer his cell phone.

Koch said his replacement will be a decision made by the governor’s office. A request for comment from Murphy’s office and the state attorney general’s office was not returned. Since the governor’s office has not announced a candidate, it is likely that an interim prosecutor will be put in place before a permanent prosecutor is chosen.

Lori Comstock can be reached on Twitter: @LoriComstockNJH, on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/LoriComstockNJH or by phone: 973-383-1194.

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