NJSBA Offers Comments on Municipal Court Recommendations

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October 1, 2019
Contact: Wendy Solomon

NEW BRUNSWICK - With few exceptions, the New Jersey State Bar Association (NJSBA) submitted comments last week in support of the Supreme Court’s recommendations from the Working Group on Municipal Courts. The NJSBA lauded the committee for its recommendations, many of which were consistent with those contained in an NJSBA report released in 2017 that included testimony from public hearings held throughout the state.
The working group recommendations focused on three areas: decoupling sentencing practices from a municipality’s need for revenue in order to enhance equal judicial independence; modifying the appointment and reappointment process for municipal court judges to enhance judicial independence; and consolidating and regionalizing municipal courts to improve the efficiency of court operations and the delivery of justice.
The NJSBA generally supported the recommendations, with four exceptions:
- With regard to a recommendation that license suspensions for failure to pay cases be ordered as a last resort and only after an ability to pay hearing is held and the individual be represented by counsel, the NJSBA urged a clarification that appointed counsel, where necessary, be assigned through the municipal public defender and not the Madden list.
- The working group recommended a county JPAC review of municipal court judges to review potential candidates and report back to the municipal governing body. The municipal governing body would retain discretion to appoint or not appoint the candidate. The NJSBA endorses the concept of this recommendation, to be conducted by a group independent of the municipal governing body. It underscored a formalized, uniform vetting process that employs “a careful balancing of all interests involved.”
- With regard to a recommendation to establish a municipal court judge evaluation process that includes a review of the sentences imposed by the judge being evaluated, the NJSBA raised concerns to ensure that there are appropriate safeguards in place so the review is not done in a vacuum.
- A recommendation to permit municipal court presiding judges to be designated as full time at the discretion of the chief justice was met with a concern that there be “more definitive details about how individuals would be appointed” and the terms and expectations of those positions.
The NJSBA offered to collaborate with the Court on their efforts to overhaul the municipal courts.
Read the letter here.