Bergen Joins Counties with Judge Shortage

By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent

Bergen County Assignment Judge Peter Doyne has a problem on his hands.

The number of judges in his courthouse is about to take a hit.

Three are planning to retire by Sept. 1.

Add that to six existing vacancies, and you begin to see Judge Doyne’s predicament.

“We had about 75,000 filings last year. We like to try as best as we’re able to reach all the matters in a timely fashion. Reasonably tried to conclude them and when we have this many vacancies, we’re simply unable to do so,” Doyne said.

So yesterday the judge sent a letter to the state bar association announcing that beginning Sept. 15, civil trials or family court matters likely to last longer than two weeks will not be heard and the cases will be suspended.

“If a case is expected over two weeks, we will not be able to address the trail of that matter until and unless we have a certain number of the vacancies resolved,” said Doyne.

The governor, who appoints judges, and the Senate that confirms them have been at loggerheads over judicial appointments.

Statewide, out of 443 superior court judgeships, there are currently 51 vacancies, or 11 percent.

In Bergen County, out of 36 judgeships there will soon be nine vacancies. That’s 25 percent.

The worst problem is in Essex County, where out of 59 judgeships; 22 are vacant, nearly 40 percent.

The Essex County situation has drawn the most attention, but now add Bergen to the list.

Linda Schwager is president of the Bergen County Bar Association with 2,000 members.

“If you’ve been an attorney working on a case, you have to go back to your client and say, ‘Your day in court has been indefinitely suspended. We don’t know when we’re gonna get a court date,'” she said.

Put on hold will be personal injury cases, complicated divorce and custody cases, corporate matters and contract disputes.

“We ask and we beg the five state senators out of Bergen County, to please work together, work with the governor, work with his staff,” Schwager said.

Sen. Paul Sarlo sits on the judiciary committee.

“I will say this on behalf of my colleagues in the Senate. We’ve had discussions. I think the three Democratic senators in Bergen County are further along than our colleagues on the Republican side. We have two Democrats that are ready to go,” Sarlo said.

“I hope and expect that both the governor and the Senate will be working together in the future. And I hope in the short term,” said Doyne.

The governor’s office filed a notice of intention yesterday to fill eight of the 22 vacancies in Essex County. Here in Bergen, there is a package of four nominees — two Democrats and two Republicans — waiting for the political winds to die down.