TRENTON – Judge Faustino Fernandez-Vina arrived in this country from Cuba as a 10-year-old who could not speak English. He appeared today before the Senate Judiciary Committee as a nominee to the state Supreme Court.
“Communism had stolen everything,’’ he said of his childhood, but one thing he held on to: “A great respect for the rule of law.”
As his high court nomination hearing got under way Thursday, he told the 13 committee members of the values of hard work and integrity instilled in him by his parents, and he said he was humbled by the nomination by Gov. Chris Christie.
Fernandez-Vina is nominated to supplant Justice Helen Hoens, whom Christie decided not to renominate.
Under questioning by Chair Sen. Nicholas Scutari, Fernandez-Vina defended his respect for the law and for jury decisions, and resisted attempts to comment on a 2011 state Supreme Court decision in which the court supplanted a jury decision with its own.
The justice he would be replacing, Hoens, was the author of that 3-2 ruling in which the jury decision was subsumed.
Fernandez-Vina acknowledged that before becoming a judge, a majority of his practice was civil court work involving insurers and their clients.
“When I was representing an individual, my allegiance was to that individual,” he told the committee.
In general, he said, “I believe in the jury system,’’ but he resisted several attempts by senators to have him comment on specific rulings and cases.
He resisted repeated attempts to get at whether he would abide or disagree with the concept of a judge abiding by previous rulings, rather than overturning established precedent.
Sen. Gerald Cardinale asked him whether he ever saw a ruling from the state high court that he felt was wrongly decided, but Fernandez-Vina said he never reviewed a case that way. Rather, he studied rulings in light of applying law correctly and making informed decisions.
In general, the tone of the questioning early on is in contrast to the level of tension that existed last year during hearings into failed nominees Bruce Harris and Phil Kwon, when partisan politics was on full display from both sides.