TRENTON – Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner is recusing himself from the case of judicial pension contribution hikes, but a spokesperson for the Administrative Office of the Courts is declining comment on why Rabner isn’t sitting in.
The answer, according to a source with knowledge of the inner workings of the judiciary, is that Rabner actively participated in the discussions of the pension and benefit bill with both the Christie administration and the Legislature before it was passed into law. According to the source, Rabner preemptively lobbied the lawmakers and the executive branch to remove sitting judges from the reform before it was passed to avoid a Constitutional challenge.
A second reason, said another source, was because Rabner also recommended to judges that they refrain from entering into a lawsuit against the state over the reforms – a recommendation that Hudson County Judge Paul DePascale ultimately ignored.
At that time – before DePascale’s lawsuit was filed – Rabner also advised members that he would not be sitting in on the case should it come before the court.
Gov. Chris Christie said today that Rabner’s recusal was a “complete mystery” to him. The governor was critical of what seemed to be an expedited handling of the case, intimating that they might want to hear the matter before Supreme Court Justice Virginia Long retired in the spring.
“I’m a little concerned about the speed at which they’re doing this,” Christie said. “It seems as though they’re trying to shoehorn this in in a very truncated time period.
“And I’m also, I have to say, mystified by Justice Long being the presiding judge, and why the chief justice is not participating,” he said. “That’s a complete mystery to me…That’s disappointing because he’s the leader of the judiciary.”
Christie is expected to replace Long with a more conservative judge once she steps down in 2012.