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Chiesa's first boss at law firm fondly recalls Senate appointee, says he 'can work both sides of the aisle'

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A photo from Jeff Chiesa's days with the law firm John Dughi Jr. founded. From left, Craig Domalewski, who worked in Chris Christie's administration; Christie; Daniel R. Lindemann, who became a Superior Court judge; and Chiesa.
A photo from Jeff Chiesa's days with the law firm John Dughi Jr. founded. From left, Craig Domalewski, who worked in Chris Christie's administration; Christie; Daniel R. Lindemann, who became a Superior Court judge; and Chiesa. - ()

Gov. Chris Christie's appointment of Attorney General Jeff Chiesa to be New Jersey's next U.S. senator is putting the law firm where the pair got their starts back in the spotlight.

Christie and Chiesa were each hired by the firm Dughi & Hewit following their clerkships after law school.

Now known as Dughi, Hewit & Domalewski, the relatively small Cranford law firm now boasts a number of big-name alumni, including Superior Court Judge Daniel Lindemann and Christie's former senior counsel, Craig Domalewski, who rejoined the firm after leaving the Christie administration in December 2011.

Founding partner John Dughi Jr. said it's "a lot of fun" to see the young lawyers he hired grow to become top leaders in the state.

"The whole firm is just so proud," he said. "We feel so blessed to have had these guys."

Chiesa joined the firm in 1991 after a clerkship for a Somerset County Superior Court judge. Dughi said he was an easy hire.

John Dughi Jr.

"You know right away he's going to work hard," Dughi said. "He looks you in the eye and you know right away he's a solid citizen."

Chiesa primarily defended malpractice cases at Dughi & Hewit.

"He's a very, very good litigator," Dughi said. "An excellent trial attorney."

Chiesa worked at the firm until 2002, when he left to join Christie in the U.S. attorney's office, in Newark. After a stint at the firm Wolff & Samson, Chiesa served as Christie's chief counsel. He was sworn in as attorney general in January 2012.

In that role, Chiesa has worked to combat gun violence and crack down on human trafficking. He's also focused on public corruption, filing some 40 new public corruption cases last year, according to the governor's office.

In announcing his decision to appoint Chiesa, Christie today said the attorney general is an affable guy who is liked across party lines.

Dughi echoed that sentiment, and said it should serve Chiesa well in Washington, D.C.

"If anybody can work both sides of the aisle, it's Jeff Chiesa," he said. "He's a practical guy. He's a smart guy and he knows how to make friends."

Chiesa was clear in saying he has no intention to run for the seat in October's special election, so his tenure in the Senate will likely be short. Chiesa described himself as a conservative Republican, and said his top initial priority will be border security. He said he wants to do more research into the issues facing the Senate before defining his other goals.

Dughi said Chiesa's lame-duck status may work to Chiesa's advantage, since he won't be worried about re-election and will therefore be somewhat insulated from politics.

Recalling his lengthy working relationship with Chiesa, Christie said he knows the soon-to-be-senator almost like a family member. Still, Christie said he expects Chiesa to make his own decisions, and not simply be a parrot the governor's views.

Dughi said that won't be an issue.

"He's his own man, and that's that," Dughi said.

Chiesa's appointment takes effect June 10.

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