State Senate confirms 8 new Essex County judges
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- The state Senate confirmed eight new Essex County superior court judges on Monday, ending a yearslong stalemate with Republican Gov. Chris Christie that had left some of the state's busiest courts with 21 vacancies on the bench.
The Senate voted 34-0 to approve the judges shortly after its judicial committee released the nominations.
"At last," Senate President Stephen Sweeney said before the vote.
Christie and the Democrat-controlled Senate have been clashing over judicial nominees for years, leading to what some political observers have described as a crisis situation. All of Christie's picks must be confirmed by the Senate, and senators have the power to block appointments in their home counties.
The deal that led to Monday's vote was not without its hiccups. Christie originally had nominated David Cohen, his former director of employee relations, as part of a June agreement to begin filling the Essex vacancies. But the state Senate judiciary committee refused to sign off on Cohen without asking further questions, prompting Christie to pull all of the nominees and accuse Democrats of reneging on their deal.
Christie eventually re-nominated all of the candidates except for Cohen, substituting him with Union County personal injury attorney Stephanie Ann Mitterhoff, of Scotch Plains.
Mitterhof, who comes from the same law firm as Republican Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, was praised by senators, including Republican Thomas Kean Jr., who said he'd known her for many years.
"She's excelled at every single thing she's ever accomplished," he said during the committee session.
Republican Sen. Kevin O'Toole said he hoped the deal would spur additional appointments in the county.
"This has been a crisis," he said. "We've worked through it. And hopefully we can get some momentum here and get the next batch of eight or 10 in Essex."
Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said the administration was "pleased with everyone's constructive role in finally getting these eight nominations through."
"The process requires full senatorial agreement on every candidate, and the administration will continue to work with the Essex County senators to address remaining vacancies, just as we've been doing in Bergen and other counties to get judicial ranks to appropriate levels," he said in a statement.
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