Monday, February 3, 2014

Another Example How Some New Jersey Municipal Courts are All About Money and Little About Justice

Know one has to reminded that municipal courts are supposed to be in the business of dispensing justice, not generating revenues for cash strapped municipal budgets.

Sadly most municipal court judges are pressured by municipal elected officials to generate fees and fines.  In recent years municipal courts are cash cows and without the enormous revenues generated by the court municipalities could not balance their budgets.

It goes without saying that municipal court judges that are merely revenue collectors for the towns that hire them are not performing their judicial functions.  Also finding the police officers credible in every case, and finding every defendant before them guilty, does nothing to foster the principals that judges are beyond such petty concerns.  The problem of course is that municipal court judges are hired at the behest of the town fathers you often gauge the performance of the judge in their town, not by judicial temperament, fairness and understanding of the law, but rather, how much money did the judge bring in last year.  

The problem was highlighted again when the Borough of Eatontown in Monmouth County engaged in a search for a new judge after seeing court revenues drop by more than 20 percent under prior judge, George Cieri, who appeared from press accounts to have good judicial temperament, fairness, and some compassion for assessing lower fines for the poor people who often came before him (let us be honest most people that are ticketed and arrested and appear in municipal courts are in fact the poor and minorities).

The problem surfaced when one councilman had no shame (Dennis Connelly a retired Eatontown cop) in urging his fellow council members to pick one attorney over another, and sole criteria was that this particular attorney was known to be a great revenue collector for the township in which he was currently employed as a judge.  Mr. Connelly also had the temerity to write according to press accounts that young and aggressive officers who were writing a lot summonses might get discouraged if the wrong judge was chosen.   He further wrote according to press accounts that Judge Cieri had a different philosophy of being a judge, whatever that means.  Although this is an extreme example of a person who has no understanding of the judicial system, this however, is not an isolated example.

All this was confirmed by the courage of the attorney Eugene Melody III, of Martin Melody in Little Silver, who pulled his name from the selection process when he wrote.  The town’s expectations are “inimical to my interpretation of how the constitution intended the third branch of government to function." Hats off to this courageous attorney to speak the truth.  The scandal also drew the attention of assignment judge Lawrence Lawson, who told the town to stop pressuring judges about revenues.   The issue of generating revenue over justice was also confirmed by Judge Cieri who complained to Judge Lawson about being pressured by the township.

The inherit conflict between justice and revenues in municipal court is a Statewide problem.  In the future the problem will only get worse as towns and cites scramble for every shrinking revenue sources and teeter on bankruptcy.   That is why all New Jersey municipal court must consolidate as Governor Christie has promoted, into joint municipal courts, with judges appointed by the Governor based on judicial experience, temperament, knowledge of the law and fairness.

Law Office of Vincent J. Sanzone, Jr., Esq.
P.O. Box 261
277 North Broad Street
Elizabeth (Union County) New Jersey 07207
Tel: (908) 354-7006
“If you want peace work for Justice.”  Pope John Paul, I

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