Two justices assigned temporarily to state Supreme Court

The State Supreme Court has been assigned two justices to serve on a temporary basis.

Judges Ariel A. Rodriguez and Mary Catherine Cuff, presiding judges of the Appellate Division, are being temporarily assigned to serve on the state’s highest court, announced Judge Glenn Grant, acting administrative director of the courts.

There are two vacancies on the court. Gov. Chris Christie’s two nominees – Bruce Harris and Phil Kwon – were rejected earlier this year by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Judge Dorothea O’C Wefing, who had been assigned in June 2011, faces mandatory retirement on Oct. 28, Grant’s office stated.

Grant said that the assignments of Rodriguez and Cuff will be effective Oct. 1 and continue until further notice.

Wefing shall continue to participate in matters presented to the court prior to Oct. 1, except for appeals that are argued in September, because those matters are unlikely to be resolved before her mandatory retirement, the office of the courts stated.

The battle over filling the vacancies permanently has become a political fight, with Democrats on the Judiciary panel saying that approving Harris and Kwon would have given the governor a conservative majority. Some opponents even said approving just one of the two would still have opened the door for a conservative majority since the justice to be tapped to fill in temporarily also would have helped tilt the balance of the court.

In addition, Democrats argued that Harris lacked courtroom experience, and they raised questions about financial dealings regarding a business owned by Kwon’s mother.

But Christie and other Republicans castigated Democrats, saying the Democrats ignored the high qualifications of both nominees and politicized the process. Christie has said he is not going to give in to Democrats and give them a liberal justice.

Although Christie has not confirmed it, there have been reports that his next nominee will be former Board of Public Utilities head Lee Solomon, who returned to the bench last year.

Two justices assigned temporarily to state Supreme Court