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Is Political Squabble Behind Essex County's Double-Digit Judicial Vacancies?

“There’s always been an equal number of Democrats and Republicans on the court, and for whatever reason, Gov. Christie is not using that approach.,” Barnes said. In August, Christie failed to renominate Supreme Court Justice Helen Hoens, because he said Democratic lawmakers were only going to deny the Republican jurist tenure. Hoens was put on the court by former Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat, and had served since 2006. Christie appointed Republican jurist Faustino Fernandez-Vina to take Hoens’ place.

“Justices Wallace and Hoens were generally respected, intelligent capable people who had earned tenure, and they were knocked out. That hurts the reputation of the court, and it sets the table for a battle royal on all the other appointments,” Barnes said.

Alan I. Model, a labor relations lawyer for Littler Mendelson in Newark, said he was president of the Essex County Bar Association during the temporary halt on civil and family cases being heard, and as far as he can tell, little has changed since then.

“There are still cases that cannot be heard. There are motions that cannot be heard. There are still judges brought in from other counties and judges coming back on recall. But nothing is moving forward as far as I’m aware,” he said. “As someone who’s not involved in politics, all I can see is the impact this is having on citizens’ faith in the court process and the impact it’s having on litigation.”

Caren Chesler is a freelance writer based in Ocean Grove, whose work has appeared in various general-interest and business publications, including The New York Times. She also served as a statehouse reporter for the Asbury Park Press.

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