New Jersey State Bar Association
Board of Trustees Report
October 16, 2020
New trustee: Prior to the start of the business session, NJSBA President Kimberly A. Yonta swore in Valerie Jackson as the Middlesex County Trustee. Jackson is a deputy Public Defender and managing attorney of the agency’s Office of Parental Representation’s central regional office. Prior to joining the Public Defender’s Office, she spent over a decade in the private sector – including at her own firm in New Brunswick and the Wilentz firm. Jackson has been active with the Association through its Diversity Committee and Child Welfare Law Section. She is a trustee of the Middlesex County Bar Association, where she also serves as secretary of the Middlesex County Bar Foundation. She is active with the Garden State Bar Association and Association of Black Women Lawyers of New Jersey.
Resumption of in-person jury trials: The NJSBA continues to be an active stakeholder in discussions regarding the resumption of in-person jury trials through the work of its Pandemic Task Force Committee on the Resumption of Jury Trials and the role Association members are playing on various Judiciary committees that are discussing the logistics of jury trials, grand juries and related matters. The NJSBA filed as an amicus party in State v. Dangcil, the first in-person criminal jury trial to be held since the pandemic shut down all trials in March. The NJSBA brief was written by Lawrence S. Lustberg, Director of the Gibbons Fellowship program, and Michael R. Noveck, Associate and Gibbons Fellow at Gibbons, P.C. The Appellate Division ended a stay imposed in the case and affirmed the jury selection process used by the trial court in the matter as comporting with the statutory authority for pre-screening jurors and in compliance with the Supreme Court’s order for approving an interim plan for resumption of jury trials. The Association participated as amicus curiae out of concern that the selection procedures used raised constitutional concerns and should have been conducted in a more transparent way that preserved the defendant’s rights to participate in it. The New Jersey Supreme Court has since denied defendant’s request for an emergency appeal. The Court acknowledged the importance of the issues raised, but concluded defendant failed to make a sufficient showing for emergent review at this stage. The Court noted it would entertain a direct appeal post-trial, if defendant were to file one. The NJSBA will be automatically granted amicus status, if there is an appeal.
Audit: The Association received a clean slate from its auditors. WithumSmith+Brown conducted the audit for the NJSBA's financial transactions in fiscal year 2019. The auditors said they will issue an unmodified opinion, which provides the highest level of assurance that the financial statements are accurate and free of any misstatements. The auditors also confirmed that all policies and procedures are up-to-date with current accounting standards. The audit did reveal a reduction in revenue and expenses as a result of the cancellation of all in-person events for the final quarter of the fiscal year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Association has a roughly $12 million annual budget to serve its over 18,000 members and offer hundreds of educational of programs through the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education.
Name change rule: The Board adopted the LGBT Rights Section’s recommendation to support the amendments to Rule 4:72 that eliminate the newspaper publication requirements in name change applications. The proposed rule change would provide consistency for all court users and protect the safety and interests of individuals seeking court approval to use a name consistent with their gender identity and lived experience.
Government relations: The board voted to support several measures pending in Trenton. They are:
• A1111 Murphy, which would establish Office of Child Advocate. The office would seek to ensure effective, appropriate and timely services for children who are at-risk of abuse and neglect, as well as children who are under state supervision for those issues. This measure would restore the office, which has been viewed as independent and helpful in the child welfare community.
• A2245 Dancer, which would establish procedures for involuntary civil commitment of children. It provides for the commitment through parental and voluntary admission to an inpatient psychiatric unit or facility serving children and amends current law to include children so they will be afforded rights and protections during the civil commitment process.
• A2711 Vainieri Huttle /S1103 Vitale, which would clarify the Legislative intent to protect certain senior tenants; and aligns housing age restrictions with federal law. The bill will provide clarity to the application of certain legal provisions designed to protect senior tenants.
• A3327 Conaway, which requires the state registrar in the Department of Health to permit a county surrogate to provide certified copy of death certificate to an authorized person, since obtaining a death certificate is one of the first steps to an estate administration.
• A4640 Mukherji / S2886 Ruiz - The Board agreed to support the measure, which would allow parents and guardians to appoint temporary guardians without giving up their rights, and advocate for amendments to ensure the final bill addresses concerns the Administrative Office of the Courts raised.