Civil cases, such as those involving divorce, labour discrimination, medical malpractice, and personal injury, will not be held in two locations known as vicinages due to the high number of empty seats, said Chief Justice Stuart Rabner in a statement issued on Tuesday.
Beginning on February 21, with few exclusions, the Civil Division and matrimonial trials in vicinages 13 and 15 will be stopped. Vicinage 13 encompasses Hunterdon, Somerset, and Warren Counties, while Vicinage 15 consists of Cumberland, Gloucester, and Salem Counties.
Pete McAleer, a spokesman for the Administrative Office of the Courts, stated that it’s impossible to determine how many trials these suspensions may effect. McAleer stated that although many trials will experience lengthy delays, the courts will continue to hear claims for child support, custody, and visitation.
Rabner stated that there are 69 vacancies throughout the state’s trial courts, which is more than one out of every six posts. Over the past three years, the court system has operated with an average of more than fifty vacancies.
This imposes increased responsibility on sitting judges who manage thousands of proceedings and motions each month, as stated by Rabner. This circumstance, in conjunction with the impact of the COVID outbreak, has resulted to delays in handling individual cases and considerable increases in backlog.
Vicinage 13 has five openings out of a total of 20 judicial jobs, while Vicinage 15 has nine vacancies out of a total of 28 positions.
The judiciary prioritises cases involving an individual’s liberty, such as criminal or juvenile delinquency charges, and those that present potential crises, such as allegations of domestic violence.
“There are currently insufficient judges in any jurisdiction to undertake civil and matrimonial trials,” Rabner stated. In the near future, if greater relief is not provided, we may find ourselves in the same predicament in other communities.
President of the New Jersey State Bar Association, Jeralyn Lawrence, stated that the current issue has reached a crisis level. “The court cannot function properly with more than 25 to 30 vacancies,” she told POLITICO in an interview. The executive and legislative branches have been aware of this issue for months and have taken no action.
Gov. Phil Murphy’s spokesman, Natalie Hamilton, stated that the administration is seeking to fill the vacancies. She stated that Governor Murphy has remained dedicated to filling judicial openings with highly competent persons. Since his inauguration in 2018, 101 judges have been nominated and confirmed, including 45 during the calendar year of 2022.
Lawrence stated that the governor is moving too slowly.
Lawrence stated, “The judiciary cannot address this situation.” There are only two government branches that can solve this situation. Our governor and legislature are at a loss as to whom to appoint to the bench.”
“Time is of the essence, and always has been,” Lawrence stated. They should not work on any other projects besides this.
Lawrence said that there is no lack of qualified candidates for the open positions.