Monday, October 29, 2007

New Jersey is Suffering from a shortage of Judges

I am not sure how New Jersey is suffering, but I am sure my clients are suffering from the lack of Judges in Superior Court. See this piece in the Star Ledger that declares Jersey is short 36 judges around the state. The article declares justice is slow. The problem is Corzine cannot agree on candidates with the legislature supposedly. "This is a problem...many courts are struggling to keep the docket moving. " Chief Justice Rabner says. This I can attest.

There are 36 Superior Court judicial vacancies -- almost 10 percent of the trial bench. Camden, Middlesex, Ocean, Passaic and Union each have at least three openings. At least one judge vacancy hasn't been filled for more than two years. There also is an opening on the state Tax Court. With some judges retiring at the end of the year, the vacancies will rise unless Gov. Jon Corzine and the state Senate hire more.

I represent parents in abuse and neglect proceedings. Parents in these proceedings are already at a severe disadvantage because of their income (over 95% are poor) and because of the protection of children, DYFS and the court do not allow for the proper due process in these cases. Kangaroo court would be a slur on kangaroos to call abuse and neglect proceedings such a name. Regardless, the shortage of judges have made this process a disaster.

My client had her two young children removed in late June, 07. I appeared in front of Judge F. Judge F. nearly returned the children to my client, but needed to see more evidence (clients in these courts are routinely made to undergo psychological and psychiatric evaluations). My client submitted and passed with flying colors. We were to return on August 8th and almost assuredly the children were to be returned on this date. As a side note my client had only one hour of supervised visitation during this period. Two days before Judge F. was to hear the case he was removed from Family Court and sent to Criminal court. Despite my adamant protests to the court they would not hear the case. DYFS used this to their advantage admirably. My client stuck with only one hour of supervised visitation, could not get her case heard until September 25th, almost two months after the fact.

On this date we went in front of a new Judge. Let us call him Judge P. I filed a motion to have the children returned, but our new judge, an older recall judge with virtually no experience in the area refused to make any decisions. He said we were there only for a compliance review and to set a trial date. I protested even stronger, but because DYFS did not want the children returned (as they almost always do) they did not speak up. I told the judge of the previous procedural history, but to no avail.

Again, my client with only one hour of supervised visitation had her case heard on October 25th, by yet another judge. We will call him Judge H. We were supposed to begin the trial, a trial that should have happened a month before. Because Judge H. has been so busy and is only a recall judge, his calendar is full and we only begun introducing evidence. I did get the motion heard finally and we are on the road back to reunification.

My client reminded me, however this judge's commission is only through November. What happens in December? Will we have another Judge? One that does not understand what is happening. One that is afraid to make a decision? I told her we have to wait and see. Yes, it is true the dockets are not moving, but this only tells a fraction of the story. See how this plays out in every day New Jersey citizens lives and you will see some tragedy, just about everyday.


Anonymous said...

Where's the Office of the Child Advocate? Was this brought to the attention of Children's Rights? Even after the lawsuit between Children's Rights and NJ, DYFS continues to inadvertently abuse children in their care. They continue to forget about the affect being in foster or residential care has on a child.

Kid Radical said...

It has only gotten worse. Someone can write a report and say how things are...on paper...but things are not good for parents in court or for children in DYFS care. That is for sure.

The office of the child advocate has turned into political hackery, not protecting children.