Governor Brendan Byrne filled five of the seven seats on the New Jersey Supreme Court during his eight years as Governor.
His first appointment came in 1975 when Nathan Jacobs reached the mandatory retirement age of 70. His pick was Superior Court Judge Sidney Schreiber, 61, a Republican from Elizabeth. Schreiber, now 94, is the oldest living Justice of the state’s top court.
When Frederick Hall, a Democrat, retired in 1975, Byrne nominated State Sen. Stephen Wiley (D-Morristown). Wiley was confirmed by the Senate, but never took his seat after the Supreme Court ruled today that he could not be seated because he voted to increase judicial salaries. Milton Conford, an Appellate Court Judge and former Mayor of Hillside, replaced Hall on an interim basis until Byrne settled on Alan Handler, 45, who had become a Superior Court Judge at age 37 and then quit the bench to become Byrne’s Chief Counsel.
Byrne appointed a new Chief Justice in 1979 when Richard Hughes turned 70: Robert Wilentz, a 52-year-old former Assemblyman whose father had been a Democratic powerhouse in state and Middlesex County politics. On the same day, he announced that he would nominate Stewart Pollock, a former Board of Public Utilities Commissioner who had succeeded Handler as his Chief Counsel, as an Associate Justice. Pollock replaced Worrall Mountain; both were Republicans.
The Governor refused to say why he declined to pick Wiley, who had lost re-election to the Senate in 1977, for one of the open seats. Since Wiley’s term had expired, he was no longer ineligible for the Supreme Court.
During his last few months as Governor, Byrne named another former Chief Counsel, Daniel O’Hern, to replace retiring Justice Mark Sullivan. The 51-year-old O’Hern, a former Red Bank Mayor, was serving as Commissioner of Environmental Protection at the time of his appointment.