Message from NJSBA President Domenick Carmagnola on judicial vacancies

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June 21, 2021
For Immediate Release
Contact: Kate Coscarelli
New Jersey State Bar President Domenick Carmagnola wrote an op-ed published by Star-Ledger yesterday on the critical need to fill judicial vacancies in the face of a 'perfect storm' facing the state's judicial system. 
Read the op-ed here or read it below.
A crisis is looming if more judges aren’t appointed quickly 
When Judge Glenn A. Grant, the administrative director of the state’s court system, testified before the state Legislature in April that a perfect storm was about to thrash New Jersey, he sounded an alarm that has been ringing unchecked for more than a year. More recently Chief Justice Stuart Rabner described the rate of vacancy on the trial bench in New Jersey as “unsustainable” and the equivalent to losing 90 years of judge time, in a state of the judiciary speech in May.
Regardless of how you describe it, these judicial vacancies have now created a problem in our court system that must be addressed without delay. Failing to do so will likely result in damage that could take years to rectify.
Simply put, the vacancy crisis comes at the worst possible time, and it can no longer be ignored.
Consider the facts: Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Administrative Office of the Courts has indicated that nearly 200,000 cases between tenants and their landlords are expected to be filed by year’s end. Pre-pandemic that caseload hovered around 12,500 cases. More than three times the number of criminal matters are now pending, and thousands of defendants are currently detained in jail waiting for trials.
With nearly 70 judicial posts vacant, more than 20% of the trial court bench is empty as cases of all types continue to stream in. These vacancies represent judges who handle important matters across every aspect of the judicial system — from family disputes to housing issues, to business and commercial disputes, to criminal charges. These vacancies impact all the citizens of New Jersey and have reached what can be only described as crisis levels.
As we together begin to take the shaky steps of emerging from this pandemic, the governor and our lawmakers in Trenton must address this unprecedented emergency in our judicial system. The residents of our state deserve a court system that has the resources to address their matters efficiently, effectively and without undue delay.
Some observers have said that because courthouses have been largely closed to the public our judges are not working or are not working hard enough. Nothing could be further from the truth.
As someone who is involved in court matters and interacts with judges and lawyers every day, I speak with the weight of the largest organization of lawyers in the state, and as a voice for its members, when I say our judges are not just working hard, they are working to absolute capacity fitting in hearings and other duties in early mornings, evenings and weekends to help stem the tide of cases.
The court system is at its limit in terms of what can be handled by the current complement of judges. Since March 2020, the courts have held 156,000 remote events with more than 2 million participants. There have been more than 419,000 case dispositions and 259,000 motions decided during the pandemic. That has included hundreds of in-person sentencings; thousands of family, civil, municipal and tax court motions, conferences and hearings; the issuance of 5,200 indictments; plus virtual jury selection and jury trials and the settlement of hundreds of civil cases.
The New Jersey State Bar Association is proud to play an integral role in the review of judicial candidates through the Hughes Compact. Though the process is confidential, I can confirm we have worked vigilantly throughout the pandemic to review all candidates presented. And we are prepared to double down on those efforts to assist in the selection and nomination process.
At the end of June, the Legislature is expected to take the traditional break following consideration of the budget, which will likely extend from July through the elections in November. While we appreciate the efforts of the Governor’s Office and the Legislature during the pandemic, we cannot take a break from this judicial crisis. Many of these vacancies have existed for years. The time to address the matter is now.
We urge the governor to nominate and the Senate to provide its thoughtful advice and consent on as many qualified judicial candidates as possible and to do it as soon as possible.
There is no time to wait.