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July 29, 2019

Judiciary mandates additional training for judges; will establish online portal for public

Following widespread criticism leveled at judges’ handling of sensitive matters, the Judiciary recently issued a directive mandating additional training for judges and promised to establish an online portal through which members of the public can provide anonymous feedback on their court experiences.

The action came in the wake of two Appellate Division opinions earlier this month calling into question statements made by two superior court judges in the context of hearings to determine if juvenile defendants charged with sexual assault should be tried as adults. The opinions followed in the footsteps of another judge facing a conduct hearing because of statements alleged to have been made to a sexual assault victim during a hearing in that matter. 

In the directive issued on July 17, Judge Glenn A. Grant, acting administrative director of the courts, wrote, “Hundreds of Superior Court and Municipal Court judges fairly and justly adjudicate millions of matters in New Jersey courts each year, performing their work with devotion to fairness and justice while maintaining the highest standards of professionalism...That does not mean that we do not continue to improve, especially when particular events prompt us to engage in critical self-analysis that suggests the need to do more to instill the Judiciary’s longstanding guiding policies and principles into our daily practices.”

The first of the statewide, bi-annual training sessions will occur before October of this year, when the courts will be closed for a mandatory full-day educational conference focusing on sexual assault, domestic violence, implicit bias and diversity. All superior court, tax court and appellate court judges, as well as Supreme Court justices, will be required to attend. A separate training will be scheduled for municipal court judges. Each vicinage also will be required to hold annual local training sessions focused on the same topics.

The action was viewed favorably by legislators and the governor, with Senator Loretta Weinberg, the sponsor of the first law requiring judicial training in handling domestic violence and abuse matters and legislation prohibiting no-disclosure agreements in sexual harassment cases, saying, “I am further encouraged by the Court’s decision to create mandatory trainings in order to prevent and correct this type of behavior in the future. This is a strong step in the right direction, one that will go a long way in maintaining the integrity and reputation of our courts for years to come.”

In addition to the training, Judge Grant also announced the Judiciary will establish an online portal for individuals to anonymously share their courtroom experiences with the Administrative Office of the Courts. Currently, individuals can address concerns to assignment judges, trial court administrators, and county ombudsmen located in each courthouse. The online portal will expand those opportunities, however, and allow for anonymous reporting, if that is what an individual desires.

This is a status report provided by the New Jersey State Bar Association on recently passed and pending legislation, regulations, gubernatorial nominations and/or appointments of interest to lawyers, as well as the involvement of the NJSBA as amicus in appellate court matters. 

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