NJ has alarming shortage of judges as courtrooms remain closed
New Jersey is facing a judicial nightmare once the pandemic is over, because of a serious shortage of superior court judges.
According to Kim Yonta, the president of the New Jersey State Bar Association, there are 74 judicial vacancies, representing 20% of the bench. Essex County has 16 vacancies, the most in the state.
“It is indeed the highest number of judicial vacancies the state has ever faced," she said.
While certain types of cases continue to take place remotely, a tsunami of more cases will be unleashed on the courts when pandemic restrictions are lifted, possibly by summer.
“The backlog of landlord-tenant cases are expected to top 100,000 statewide once the eviction moratorium is lifted,” she said. “Normally that docket has been around 13,000 cases.”
She noted the picture is equally dire in the criminal courts, where nearly 5,000 defendants are being held in jail while they await trial.
“About half of those people have languished in jail for more than six months,” she said. “Typically in New Jersey we have speedy trial requirements that dictate that jailed defendants must be indicted within 90 days.”
Those requirement have been suspended because pandemic restrictions do not allow for in-person court appearances.
“So you’re talking about a lot of civil liberties and housing issues that this state is going to face and we want to make sure we have judges in place so that we can hit the ground running,” said Yonta.
As for what’s causing the shortage of judges, she said normally the governor nominates Superior Court judges and the state Senate confirms them in a timely manner but everything has become bogged down because of the pandemic.
Politics also is to blame.
“Everything is negotiated, so when you have candidates in each county, you have a lot of people making maneuvers to try to see which candidate would be the best fit," she said.
Yonta noted the Legislature and the governor’s office are aware there are numerous vacancies “and I know they are working behind the scenes to try and fill them.”
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com