Justice shortage brings end to some trials

New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Stuart Rabner

Civil and matrimonial trials in Gloucester and other counties will end as of Feb. 21 because of a high number of judicial vacancies.

According to state Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, Gloucester County and five other counties – Hunterdon, Somerset, Warren, Cumberland and Salem – will suspend civil and matrimonial trials for the immediate future.

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“At this time, there are 69 vacancies throughout the trial courts, more than one out of every six positions statewide,” Rabner said in a press release. “That imposes heightened responsibilities on sitting judges who handle thousands of proceedings and motions each month. In addition, for the past three years, the court system has operated with an average of more than 50 vacancies.

“That situation, along with the effects of the COVID crisis, has contributed to delays in handling individual cases and substantial increases in backlog.”

Rabner said in the release that the shortage of judges has been particularly challenging in two vicinages: one comprised of Hunterdon, Somerset, and Warren counties, which has five vacancies out of a total 20 required, and the other comprised of Cumberland, Gloucester, and Salem counties, where there are nine vacancies out of 28 judgeships.

The judiciary prioritizes proceedings such as criminal and juvenile delinquency cases, cases that present potential emergencies such as domestic violence and other time-sensitive matters.

“In light of the high percentage of vacancies … and the particular challenges multi-county vicinages face, there are simply not enough judges at this time to conduct civil and matrimonial trials in either vicinage,” Rabner said. “Without additional relief, we may well face the same situation in other vicinages in the near future.

“We recognize that when the doors of the courthouse are closed – even partially – people entitled to their day in court suffer real harm,” he added. “We therefore respectfully call on the executive and legislative branches to address the current vacancy crisis …

“We are prepared to assist in any way that would be helpful.”

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