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January 10, 2017

Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill yesterday adding 20 Superior Court judges to the state’s judicial roster, bringing the total for that court to 463.

At the moment, 417 judgeships are filled, and 12 new judicial appointees have just been advanced by the Senate Judiciary Committee. If they are approved by the full Senate, that would leave 34 vacant positions (including the 20 just added by the governor).

The full complement of judges is likely to be needed ASAP.

Under changes first authorized in a 2014 law, bail is now determined using risk assessment to prevent lengthy jail terms for nonviolent criminals who can’t post bail. Hearings must also be held within 48 hours to go over the results of a six-point assessment system. A constitutional amendment that was approved by voters in 2014 also allows judges to deny pretrial bail to prisoners accused of serious crimes or considered to be flight risks.

Christie highlighted those changes during the bill-signing ceremony in Trenton, saying Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, who also attended the event, would determine where the new justices will be assigned based on caseloads.

“We want the chief justice to decide where these judges should go, not politics,” Christie said. The additional judges will come with a $9.3 million price tag in fiscal 2018, which begins on July 1, the governor said.

The governor credited Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and other lawmakers from both parties for working together to address judicial vacancies that had disrupted work at some courthouses in recent years. The bill boosting the judicial roster was introduced on December 12 and it cleared both houses a week later.

“This isn’t about politics, it’s about people,” Sweeney said.

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