Merkt, Lonegan pledge to dump Rivera-Soto; Christie won’t evaluate until ’11

Although prominent members of the Republican Party will likely try to score political points over the upcoming reappointment of State Supreme Court Justice Barry Albin this year, Assemblyman and gubernatorial candidate Rick Merkt (R-Mendham) would rather focus on the appointments he would actually have control over if he becomes governor.

“I would fire them all,” said Merkt.

Of course, Merkt can’t get rid of all of them. Two of the justices — Virginia Long and Jaynee LaVecchia — are tenured until mandatory retirement at age 70. And Chief Justice Stuart Rabner won’t come up for his tenure confirmation until 2014.

Governor Jon Corzine will still be in office in September, when Albin, after serving seven years, will need to be reconfirmed. But Justices John Wallace, Roberto Rivera-Soto and Helen Hoens will all come up for reappointment during either Corzine’s second term or the first term of his Republican opponent.

Rivera-Soto is the most controversial of the three, having been censured for allegedly invoking his position to get an adversary of his son’s in trouble, and having just recently accused of violating a court order relating to the Jayson Williams case.

Merkt said that he would not reappoint Rivera-Soto, a Republican, but not because of any controversy.

“It’s based on my review of his decisions on the bench… particularly the one involving civil unions. It indicates to me that he lacks a proper perspective on the issue of separation of powers,” said Merkt. “I don’t think there’s really much that can be done with respect to Albin. But I do with respect to Rivera-Soto, Long and Hoens.” (Clarification: Long is not up for confirmation, though Wallace will be in 2010 if he is to serve two more years before he turns 70. Earlier in his conversation with PolitickerNJ, Merkt mentioned that Wallace would be the first reappointment of the next gubernatorial term).

Republican gubernatorial frontrunner Chris Christie said that, if elected, he would withhold judgment of Soto until he completes his seven year term in 2011.

“The constitution gives us seven years to judge somebody, and my view is that each of those judges get their seven year record to make their case for reappointment,” he said. “While obviously there are some concerns about Rivera-Soto that come up for his personal conduct, I wouldn’t judge anything until then.”

Former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan, who has already started to make Albin an issue in his campaign for governor — Albin voted against Lonegan’s anti-state borrowing position in Lonegan vs. State II — said that he would also not reappoint Rivera-Soto.

“I need good, solid conservative judges who are going to interpret the constitution, not amend it. And I’m going to have a very high standard for that,” said Lonegan. “Soto has already been on the wrong side of a number of issues, if I’m not mistaken.”

A fourth Republican gubernatorial candidate, Franklin Township Mayor Brian Levine, could not immediately be reached for comment.