This story is being republished under a special NJ News Commons content-sharing agreement related to COVID-19 coverage. Link to story: njbiz.com/civil-divorce-trials-to-resume-in-south-jersey-vicinage-as-limitations-loom-in-passaic-county/
After civil and divorce trials in six counties were suspended earlier this year amid an ongoing shortage of judges, the New Jersey Supreme Court reported proceedings will resume in one of the two impacted vicinages since progress has been made to restore the bench.
In a July 5 update, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said the number of vacant trial court judgeships in Vicinage 15 (Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties) has been “substantially reduced” over the past five months from nine to two, out of a total of 28, enabling the judiciary to once again conduct those types of trials in the region.
However, the moratorium will stay in place for Vicinage 13 (Hunterdon, Somerset and Warren counties) as the number of vacancies remains unchanged and there are still not enough judges to conduct civil and matrimonial trials, he said.
Of the 433 trial court judgeships in New Jersey, there are 53 vacancies with 20 more expected by the end of the year—either voluntarily or because judges will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70.
For the past three years, the court system has operated with an average of more than 60 vacancies.
Unless the state gets the number of empty seats to between 25 and 30, Rabner said the judicial vacancy crisis will result in more trial suspensions and further delays to existing criminal and civil proceedings.
Despite the confirmation of multiple judges in recent weeks, the situation continues to pose a challenge in certain parts of the state, prompting Rabner to announce a reduction in the number of civil and matrimonial trials heard in the Passaic Vicinage, starting July 31.
With seven out of 28 judgeships vacant—many of which have gone unfilled for several years—the vicinage will conduct only civil and divorce trials for “very limited circumstances,” the chief justice said in his July 5 update.
“The Judiciary’s goal is to serve the public by providing a place to resolve disputes fairly and expeditiously. In order to do so in every vicinage, we respectfully ask the Executive and Legislative branches to continue to address the critical issue of judicial vacancies in a timely manner,” Rabner said.