NJ Supreme Court chief justice warns of historic court vacancies as 6,800 await trial in jails

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NJ Supreme Court chief justice warns of historic court vacancies as 6,800 await trial in jails


New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said Friday the number of vacancies on the bench had reached a record high, with 75 open positions and another 20 retirements expected at the end of the year.

During his State of the Judiciary speech in Atlantic City, Rabner urged the state Legislature and Gov. Phil Murphy to speed up the process of getting trial court judges nominated and confirmed. Currently 17% of 433 trial court positions are vacant, he said.

“The problem is simple to grasp. We need more judges to provide the level of service the public is entitled to receive. And we need help from the other branches to fix that problem,” Rabner said.

The pandemic has also exacerbated vacancies. Rabner said judges are prioritizing criminal cases. The courts postponed in-person trials for more than a year and now roughly 6,800 defendants remain behind bars awaiting trial. With fewer judges and a backlog of pending criminal trials, Rabner said some courts have been forced to delay trials for personal injury cases by up to four years — or have had to stop scheduling trials for certain kinds of cases.

“In one victim, no divorce trials at all are being scheduled because there are not enough judges,” he said.

Given the current vacancy rate, it will take five years from the date of filing for the parties to get to trial.

“For too many people who are unable to resolve their differences, their lives are on indefinite hold,” Rabner said.



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