LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

Scutari Says Judiciary Committee Dealing with Superior Court Vacancies Before Supreme Court

The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved 16 nominees for judges today marking a change from a lack of approvals. Chair of that committee, Sen. Nicholas Scutari, told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that the nominee process has been in the works for weeks and took a lot of coordination. He said the approved judges are for superior courts throughout the state and that officials will deal with Gov. Chris Christie’s nominations for state Supreme Court at a later date.

Scutari said he has been working with the governor’s senior staff and members of the Senate to come to agreements on various nominations. “This is the beginning of the culmination of the agreement that we’ve struck,” he said.

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Former Monmouth County Sheriff Joseph Oxley was one appointment that generated a lot of headlines. He allegedly was associated with Solomon Dwek, who was sentenced to prison for bank fraud. “Mr. Oxley passed the Judiciary and passed the full Senate today and I was in support of it as well,” Scutari said. “There was a lot of news stories and things of that sort going around out there, but at the end of the day people were satisfied and voted on him.”

Noticeably absent from today’s appointments were judges for Essex County, which has been a divide between Democrats and Christie. Scutari said Essex County wasn’t part of the latest discussions but it will “be one of our next top agenda items going forward to try to alleviate the situation there with the extraordinarily large amount of judicial vacancies.”

Scutari said the logjam to judicial appointments stopped after a lot of conversations and meetings of the minds. He said he has worked with new Director of Appointments Matt McDermott on the issue. “At some point in time we started to say these are the things we can agree upon, some things that we can’t agree upon,” Scutari said. “Let’s move on forward with the people and the nominees we can agree upon and I think it was an important milestone today.”

While more than a dozen judicial appointments were made today, no hearings have been set for Christie’s latest two nominees for state Supreme Court. Scutari said superior court judges often have more of an everyday impact on people’s lives and are being dealt with first. He said the Supreme Court nominees will be dealt with at a later date.

“You gotta walk before you can run. I think we took some good steps today in filling some very important positions and that was not part of the discussions during the last month where I’ve talked to their staff probably on a daily basis, half a dozen times per day plus coordinating these particular nominees with the individual senators that represent those counties so it was a big task today. That’s something that we’ll deal with in the future,” Scutari said.

The Supreme Court nominees were not part of the discussions leading to today’s approvals, according to Scutari. He said the committee is concentrating its efforts on the superior court judges right now.

“This is the first thing that we tackled. This has the largest influence statewide. We dealt with nominations in Monmouth County, Middlesex County, Union County, Morris County, Camden County, all throughout the state,” Scutari said. “Those courts are going to get needed bodies, needed top rate judicial candidates to help their problems.”