Judge, once a local elected official, got tenure weeks after releasing alleged Newark killer

Embattled Superior Court Judge Thomas Vena — the guy who cut the bail of an illegal immigrant accused of raping a five-year-old girl that was charged this month with three Newark murders — got tenure just two months ago, which means he can serve until 2022.

Vena, a Democrat and a career government lawyer with close ties to several key political leaders in Essex County, including Senate President Richard Codey, was elected South Orange Village Trustee in 1989. Governor Christine Todd Whitman appointed Vena to serve as a state Administrative Law Judge in 1998, and on October 23, 2000 as a Superior Court Judge. Governor Jon Corzine reappointed him for a tenured term on May 24, 2007, and after a brief hearing before the State Senate Judiciary Committee, he was unanimously confirmed for what could be a fifteen-year term as a Judge by the State Senate on June 18.

Vena's renomination came seven days after he reduced Jose Lachira Carranza's bail from $300,000 to $150,000, allowing the alleged murder with a history of violent crime, to return to the streets. Vena was on vacation that week, but according to published reports, stopped into the office to sign the bail reduction order.

Last week, Codey — who was among the group of politicians that initially advocated Vena's judicial appointments, strongly criticized Vena's decision, and asked state Attorney General Anne Milgram to investigate why Vena made a unilateral decision without input from the office of the Essex County Prosecutor. The Prosecutor, Paula Dow, did not contact the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding Vena's actions during the three weeks that preceeded the Senate confirmation vote on Vena's tenured term.

Carranza is among those charged in the gangland-type slayings of three college students in a Newark schoolyard.

In New Jersey, once a Superior Court Judge has been renominated to a second seven-year term, he or she may remain on the bench until reaching the age of seventy. Judge, once a local elected official, got tenure weeks after releasing alleged Newark killer