Walter Timpone was confirmed Monday by the state Senate as the next associate justice of the state Supreme Court, marking the first time in almost six years that New Jersey’s highest court will have a full roster of seven justices.

The Supreme Court has been operating with an appellate judge temporarily assigned for nearly six years, after a political battle was sparked by Gov. Chris Christie declining in May 2010 to renominate associate Justice John Wallace Jr. for what would have been the final 18 months of his tenure.

Democrats fought Christie for the subsequent six years over the court’s political balance, asserting that Christie shouldn’t be able to appoint four Republicans in addition to Associate Justice Jaynee LaVecchia, a registered independent who served in Republican Gov. Christie Whitman’s administration.

That battle finally ended a few weeks ago, when Christie relented and nominated Timpone, a Democrat from Cranford.

“I’m just glad to end all the drama because a lot of the judges went through – Superior Court judges, appellate judges – went through a lot of anxiety with the uncertainty – people alluding that there would be a problem with reappointments,” Sweeney said. “So I’m just glad it’s done, to be honest with you.”

Timpone, 65, will be eligible to serve on the Supreme Court until November 2020.

Timpone was confirmed in a 32-1 vote. The only opposition came from Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, who told reporters after the vote that Timpone was “less than truthful” in a phone interview she did with him and then wasn’t made available by Christie’s office, as she requested, to clarify.

Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg talks with reporters about voting against Walter Timpone for the state Supreme Court. (Michael Symons/Townsquare Media)
Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg talks with reporters about voting against Walter Timpone for the state Supreme Court. (Michael Symons/Townsquare Media)

At issue was Timpone’s recusal as a member of the Election Law Enforcement Commission in a campaign-finance complaint brought against Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. The case fizzled because Timpone recused himself from a vote, leaving the short-staffed ELEC unable to pursue it.

Timpone told the Senate Judiciary Committee last week that he recused himself from the case because he once asked DiVincenzo about a job for his nephew, who two years later left the job after a falling-out with the county executive. Timpone said that if he didn’t recuse himself, his vote would either be seen as a favor for the job or retribution for the falling-out.

Timpone didn’t divulge to the Senate committee he had voted in 2011 to start the investigation of DiVincenzo, before recusing himself in 2013.

“He told me on the phone that he recused himself from the moment he heard the name of the county executive. That is not true,” Weinberg said.

“He actually voted after he got an Ethics Commission reading saying he shouldn’t vote,” she said. “So if that’s what he was going to do to make it onto the Supreme Court, I really have difficulty with what kind of Supreme Court justice he’s going to be. He’s coming on under a cloud.”

“I believe we just put the wrong man on the Supreme Court,” Weinberg said.

A state appeals court ruled Monday against ELEC's request for an indefinite time extension for bringing its complaint against DiVincenzo. It wants until 45 days after the commission's vacancies are filled by Christie and the Senate; with Timpone's pending departure, three of ELEC's four seats will be unfilled.

Sweeney said he doesn’t doubt Weinberg but wasn’t involved in that exchange.

“Obviously I respect and – Loretta’s my partner. So I’m not going to say what she’s telling me isn’t true. I just wasn’t part of the conversation,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney noted Monday that the court doesn’t have any black members; it hasn’t since Wallace left the court six years ago.

“In the future, when there’s another opening, we really have to make sure we focus on making sure we have African-American representation on the bench, so the court itself is reflective of the people of the state,” Sweeney said.