Essex Bar Assoc. wants judicial vacancies issue resolved

A letter sent today from the Essex County Bar Association to state lawmakers recounts how severe the judicial backlog due to vacancies has become in that county. The bar association seeks a meeting to resolve the problem.

According to a letter to seven legislators and governor’s chief counsel Jeff Chiesa (named today to replace Attorney General Paula Dow), “The backlog is causing immediate and irreparable harm to the litigants and attorneys who practice in Essex County, and to the public’s faith in our statewide court system.”

Among other things, the letter states that contested divorces will not be tried.

“Contested divorces are amongst the most hotly disputed and emotionally charged actions in the court system,” the letter states, with litigants often living under the same roof until the case is decided.

The letter is signed by Essex County Bar Association President Alan I. Model and copies were sent to lawmakers and judges.

‘We understand that the judicial vacancies are due to an ongoing political dispute. Without taking sides in the political dispute, we firmly believe that there has to be a meaningful dialogue to break this logjam and get our courts back to their normal functioning – for all involved,” the letter stated.

“The Essex County courts cannot operate without 25% (11 of 44) of the assigned judges,” it stated.

The Bar Association states in the letter it seeks to hold a public meeting in Newark during the next two weeks to address the problem. The meeting would include lawmakers involved in the problem, the letter states.

The standoff involves Gov. Christie holding up the judicial nominations until state Sen. Ron Rice, (D-28), Newark, stops holding up the confirmation of acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf.

Text of letter: 

Dear Sir/Madam:

As you are aware, on December 7, 2011, the Honorable Patricia K. Costello, A.J.S.C. suspended indefinitely all matrimonial trials and civil trials assigned to tracks 3 and 4. Judge Costello’s decision stems from the 11 judicial vacancies in Essex County. The vacancies have caused a severe backlog of cases preventing justice from being served. The backlog is causing immediate and irreparable harm to the litigants and attorneys who practice in Essex County, and to the public’s faith in our statewide court system.

With respect to the matrimonial docket, contested divorces will not be tried. Contested divorces are amongst the most hotly disputed and emotionally charged actions in the court system. The parties to these actions often remain in the same household until their cases are decided. Co-habitation amongst litigants not only negatively impacts their lives but more importantly their children’s lives. Divorce cases are not just about money; children are greatly impacted by their resolution. These families are living in limbo while waiting for a trial date which, at present, will not be scheduled.

With respect to civil matters on tracks 3 and 4, these are the most complex and lengthy cases on the court docket. These cases often require multiple witnesses and experts from out-of-state who must make travel arrangements many months in advance of a trial. The suspension of these trials is wreaking havoc on the civil docket as parties, attorneys, and witnesses have no expectation as to when their matters will be adjudicated. Even prior to the suspension of these civil trials, the shortage of judges led to Essex County’s civil docket ranking 18th in the State (4th from the bottom) in terms of its backlog.

The Essex County Bar Association (“ECBA”) is gravely concerned as to these developments and believes this may be the tipping point for the Essex County vicinage. The Essex County courts cannot operate without 25% (11 of 44) of the assigned judges. The citizens of Essex County deserve a fully staffed judiciary who can timely administer justice. We, as a Bar Association, cannot sit by idly as this situation worsens.

We understand that the judicial vacancies are due to an ongoing political dispute. Without taking sides in the political dispute, we firmly believe that there has to be a meaningful dialogue to break this logjam and get our courts back to their normal functioning – for all involved. Toward that end, the ECBA seeks to hold a meeting with all of you to openly air these issues. We seek to hold the meeting in Newark during the next two weeks at a location to be determined. Also, the ECBA is in the process of identifying other elected officials and practitioners to participate in the meeting, but will not send out the meeting invitation until a date is confirmed with you.

Please respond to the ECBA’s Executive Director, Wendy E. Deer, Esq., as to your availability as soon as you can. In order to facilitate or expedite this forum for discussion, the ECBA is ready and willing to hold this meeting in Trenton.

Thank you for your commitment to the State of New Jersey and its citizens. We are at a crucial juncture for the Essex County court system and appreciate your anticipated willingness to participate in this meeting.

Related coverage:

Rice won’t budget on Cerf nomination

Essex Bar Assoc. wants judicial vacancies issue resolved