New prosecutor in New Jersy county brings 20 years of experience

New prosecutor in New Jersy county brings 20 years of experience. And she’s a local. After more than 20 years in the legal profession, Kristin Telsey is three weeks into her role as the top law enforcement official in Salem County and says she’s excited to be a part of the changing landscape of criminal justice in New Jersey.

Telsey, 46, was named acting Salem County prosecutor earlier this month following the retirement of John T. Lenahan, who served in the role for 18 years. She’s serving in an acting capacity until the formal nomination and confirmation process is completed in Trenton.

“I really look forward to serving Salem County,” she said. “It’s a great time to be in law enforcement.”

Originally from Holland, Michigan, Telsey graduated from Widener University School of Law in Delaware in 1999.

An only child, her father was a longtime custodian at Hope College in Holland and her mother was a high school German teacher. Both are now retired.

She met her husband, Adam, through a mutual friend while at law school and they will celebrate their 22nd wedding anniversary on Saturday.

Adam, son of late Superior Court Judge Norman Telsey, was born and raised in Salem County. The couple settled in Woodstown to raise their two sons.

Telsey began her career as a law clerk to Chancery Division Presiding Judge Theodore Z. Davis in Camden in 1999. From 2000 to 2010, she was associate and then shareholder at the law firm Earp Cohn P.C. in Cherry Hill, where she handled a range of cases, including probate, real estate, construction, insurance fraud, employment, business, civil rights and appellate matters.

In 2010, she joined her husband’s firm, Puma, Telsey & Rhea, in Salem, where her additional practice areas included advising local governments on a range of issues, including government ethics, police discipline and open public records law.

In 2016, Telsey and her husband formed their own law firm in Salem.

She also served as municipal prosecutor for multiple communities, including Millville, Bridgeton and the joint Carneys Point/Pennsville municipal court.

She resigned from the law practice and from her municipal prosecutor positions at the end of August to take on the county prosecutor role.

All of that experience helped prepare her for this new responsibility.

“My legal career has been so varied and I’ve had access to so many different types of cases,” she said. “I’ve had a huge variety of litigation experience. This position is a fantastic marriage of all of those areas.”

Her predecessor launched numerous police reforms that were firsts in New Jersey, including banning chokeholds and mandating body-worn cameras.

Lenahan also left behind an office filled with experienced prosecutors, investigators and staff, Telsey said.

“This is an amazing office of truly dedicated professionals from the ground up,” she said. “Salem County may be small, but it is mighty, and this prosecutor’s office is the perfect example of that.

“I am beyond honored to be entrusted with this position following Prosecutor Lenahan’s retirement.”

The office’s strengths were immediately apparent when she arrived, Telsey noted.

Just 10 days after she arrived, Assistant Prosecutor William Holmes obtained a guilty verdict in a first-degree murder case. On Sept. 15, the office completed its third accreditation inspection through the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police, which confirms the office meets best practice standards in administrative, personnel, operations, investigative and arrestee/detainee functions.

On Tuesday, Telsey and other members of her team will join Acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck and the Salem County Coalition for a Safe Community for a community walkthrough of Salem City to reinforce the commitment to improving relationships between residents and law enforcement.

Since her brother-in-law is Superior Court Assignment Judge Benjamin C. Telsey, who oversees court matters for Salem, Gloucester and Cumberland counties, Superior Court Judge Linda Lawhun has been designated to oversee any assignment judge duties that may relate to the Salem County Prosecutor’s Office.

“The judiciary and my office are both committed to transparency and public trust in our respective operations and the designation as to Judge Lawhun is an important component of that for our county,” Prosecutor Telsey said.

She takes on this new task during a turbulent time in the nation’s law enforcement landscape.

The George Floyd killing in Minneapolis prompted New Jersey to push ahead with various police reforms, including a statewide ban on chokeholds, mandates that all officers in New Jersey wear body cameras and greater transparency on police use of force incidents.

“The events of the last few years have forced us into critical conversations about fairness, criminal justice, race, transparency, and the role of community in policing,” Telsey said. “We are starting to see the results of those conversations with new and better partnerships among different law enforcement agencies, and also directly with the victims and the communities dealing firsthand with violence.”

While she is excited to bring new programs to local communities and launch fresh initiatives, the core mission of her office remains “the solemn task of administering our criminal laws.”

“We will continue to seek justice for all crime and work to assist in every way possible the victims of violence in our communities,” she said.

Telsey has been a local for more than 20 years now and enjoys the small-town, community feel of Salem County. She understands why her husband didn’t want to leave the area when he began his professional career.

“I love the fact that everyone knows each other,” she said. “I love the fact that everyone will step in to help. It is a phenomenal place to raise my children.