TRENTON – As the first of several judges came before the Senate Judiciary Committee today for appointment, state Sen. Gerald Cardinale, (R-39), of Demarest, tried to inquire as to her opinion on the Supreme Court case in which a sitting judge is challenging the state’s pension and benefit reform as it relates to judicial contributions.
Before the candidate, Allison Accurso, could even formulate an answer to Cardinale’s question, Chairman Nicholas Scutari, (D-22), of Linden, cut her off.
“I appreciate that question, senator,” he said. “In fact, I thought about asking it myself.” But because the issue is part of ongoing litigation, Scutari directed the candidate to disregard it and not answer.
Cardinale insisted that he had not asked about the case, but rather whether a candidate for re-nomination, like Accurso, would “voluntarily” submit to higher contribution rates.
Scutari didn’t budge, but Cardinale persisted with other candidates and voted against nominees like Accurso who he believed did not volunteer an answer – even though the question was technically never asked.
A few Democratic senators made clear that Cardinale’s ‘no’ vote should not reflect poorly on any candidate before them. State Sen. Joe Kyrillos, (R-13), of Middletown, said, although he understood why the question couldn’t be asked, he identified with the “overarching concern.”
He said it defies logic that the public is not “up in arms” over the judicial challenge to benefit reform. “It affects all public employees,” Kyrillos said.
Not completely in agreement with Cardinale’s line of questioning, Kyrillos still said, “I do completely (agree) with his larger point, and I’m glad he’s making it.”
As the next nominee came before the panel, Cardinale again asked the question but with a slightly different approach. “The issue that I am questioning is not constitutional,” he said, unlike the court case. “My question was posed absent that (constitutional challenge), or in spite of that,” he said, and was particular to whether the nominee would volunteer for higher contributions. “I’m not going to try to have a trial here on the constitutional issue.”
Again the question was stricken by Scutari, and Cardinale voted ‘no.’
When Cardinale asked nominee Nan Famular, who was approved to return to the Camden County courts by the committee, the same question, she offered an answer against Scutari’s direction.
“I consider myself to be a team player, ‘nuff said,” she told Cardinale.
He said he was “impressed” by her statement, which Scutari said could have been interpreted in any number of ways.
Cardinale, before approving Famular’s nomination, said, “I think that that took a great deal of character…I believe you have given me an answer that I can take and have some confidence that you are part of the team of the people of New Jersey.”