Lawmakers who represent Union County are responsible for a massive injustice, according to Angela Alvey-Wimbush, who is running for state Senate in the June 6 Democratic primary election in the 20th legislative district, which includes Elizabeth, Union, Kenilworth and Roselle.
Alvey-Wimbush noted that Judge Glenn A. Grant, administrative director of the Courts, recently told the New Jersey General Assembly Budget Committee and the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee that the judiciary system’s operations need more than the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year because lawmakers have ignored justice.
Grant, on behalf of Chief Justice Stuart Rabner and the justices of the Supreme Court, warned of a judge vacancy crisis that has been ongoing for several years, with more than 50 vacancies for the past three years.
“A year ago, we warned of the need to reduce that number to a manageable level of between 25 and 30,” said Grant. “We are no longer headed toward a crisis. We are in the middle of one.”
This past February, Chief Justice Rabner had to shut down civil and matrimonial trials in two court vicinages due to the high number of vacancies. As of today, the courts are still operating with 58 judicial vacancies, while new judges are being nominated and confirmed, with another 22 judges expected to retire between now and the end of the calendar year.
“Justice delayed is justice denied,” said Alvey-Wimbush, who noted that Union County’s political boss is the Senate President, and a former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “This is a serious problem caused by the political machinations of the greedy and corrupt elected officials who are running for re-election on Column A. This is a problem that voters can solve by choosing the Democrats on Column B.”
Alvey-Wimbush said the high number of vacancies cause real harm to people seeking to address serious matters that require attention from the courts.
“Victims seeking financial compensation are left in limbo,” said Alvey-Wimbush. “Married couples with children who are seeking to work out divorce agreements have their lives put on hold. Businesses are unable to settle contract disputes.”
“The backlog of cases continues to rise throughout our justice system – in our civil courts, general equity courts, family courts, and criminal courts – and while justice delayed is justice denied, these injustices are all the fault of Column A politicians that you can fire on June 6,” said Alvey-Wimbush.
Jeralyn Lawrence, president of the New Jersey State Bar Association, agreed that politicians are to blame for the crisis.
“The fact that there are only four nominations on the calendar today when there are 24 ready to go is pathetic,” said Lawrence, after a state Senate panel advanced four new judicial nominees in February, slightly shrinking the statewide number of judicial vacancies. “Why are there not 24 nominations on the calendar today? That failure is on the Senate.”
Grant acknowledged the incredible efforts of judges and administrative staff to perform their duties and responsibilities despite the judicial and staffing vacancies. However, the situation is dire, and more judges are needed to hear cases.
“Column A politicians created a crippling court backlog and drove the New Jersey Supreme Court to suspend civil and divorce cases in six counties,” said Alvey-Wimbush, who is challenging anti-abortion state Senator Joseph Cryan, of Union. “The Constitution gives the Senate the responsibility to advise the governor about nominees and the authority to consent, which means to approve or reject those nominations.”
Cryan has never been shy about packing his family members into government jobs, but he apparently cannot be bothered to recommend qualified judges, who are needed to decide cases.
The impact of the pandemic and judge vacancies has particular implications for the criminal division, with a significant increase in both the number of detained defendant trials and the number of defendants on pretrial release. The Judiciary is seeking to increase the funding for pretrial staff to properly monitor these defendants on pretrial release.
“As of today, our courts are operating with 58 judicial vacancies, while confronting a massive backlog of cases created by the combined effects of years of high vacancy numbers and the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Grant. “And while new judges are being nominated and confirmed, another 22 judges are expected to retire between now and the end of the calendar year. Merely keeping pace with retirements does not help us dig out of the hole.”
Grant also spoke about the Criminal Justice Reform (CJR) Act, which has been in effect since 2017 and has been an example for other states of what can be accomplished when all three branches of government work in collaboration to create a better and fairer system of justice.
The initiative has proven that a risk-based system of pretrial release can be created, in which high-risk individuals are detained and low-risk individuals are released pretrial without negatively impacting their lives or compromising public safety.
Chief Justice Rabner earlier this year convened a committee to examine the CJR Act and its data from its five years of existence, which will produce a report that analyzes CJR data to make recommendations to the Legislative and Executive branches on any areas of the law that might be in need of adjustment based on the five-year data.