In the wake of recommendations released this summer by a state Supreme Court committee, a New Jersey lawmaker has introduced the first of many bills aimed at keeping financial incentives out of municipal courts.

"Our goal should be the greatest amount of compliance and the greatest amount of safety, with the least amount of punishment," Sen. Declan O'Scanlon, R-Monmouth, told New Jersey 101.5. "Right now, our system is unquestionably, in many instances, the other way around."

Noting municipal judges are at times chosen and reappointed based on how many fines they're likely to give out, O'Scanlon said one of his new measures would increase the term of municipal court judges from three to five years.

Asm. Declan O'Scanlon
Sen. Declan O'Scanlon (Townsquare Media)

"It gives them a much greater period of time between appointments, which we hope will increase independence," O'Scanlon said. "It's not going to solve the problem, but it will help."

Another measure would allow defendants to earn credits toward fines if they complete court orders such as counseling or drug rehabilitation. This way, O'Scalon said, defendants are encouraged to turn their lives around — not just hand over some cash and help fund a town's budget.

A report released in July by the Supreme Court Subcommittee on Municipal Court Fines, Operations, and Revenue recommended ways the municipal justice system can focus more on justice and less on revenue.

Days later, the state's top court paved the way for the potential dismissal of nearly 800,000 outstanding warrants for old tickets on minor offenses.

In a third proposal from O'Scanlon, the Judiciary would be urged to come up with a system in which attorneys appearing before judges can anonymously review those judges and inform the courts on their performance.

"That already happens at other levels ... just not municipal," O'Scanlon said.

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