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Sarlo: Governor Leaves More Then Precedent Shredded In Supreme Court Appointment

TRENTON – Senator Paul Sarlo today said that Governor Christie’s unceremonious jettisoning of Justice John Wallace from the state Supreme Court not only ended the decades-old precedent of judicial independence, but also was the failed first test of the judicial nomination process since the administration ended the decades-long practice of vetting prospective judges through their county bar association.

Sarlo is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and served as the panel’s chairman in the 2008-2009 legislative session.

“When it comes to shredding precedent, the Governor has hit two-for-two,” said Sarlo (D-Bergen/Essex/Passaic). “Not only did he cavalierly toss aside nearly 70 years of judicial independence, he also tore up a more than 40-year-old process of vetting potential jurists. In his zealous pursuit of a reshaped judiciary, he has trampled upon the very processes that have allowed our courts to operate as a fully separate and independent arm of government.”

Since 1969, every gubernatorial administration and the State Bar Association have operated under the so-called Hughes Compact – named for former Gov. Richard Hughes – that allowed County Judicial and Prosecutorial Appointment Committees (JPACs) to be the first group to review all candidates to be judges or prosecutors. Recently, the Christie administration rewrote the compact to eliminate the county bar review.

“Every governor since Richard Hughes has leaned on the people who most intimately know whether someone would be a good judge – the lawyers they interact with on a daily basis,” said Sarlo. “Had this Governor not tossed aside the Hughes Compact, perhaps he would have heard from local bars that no one could replace Justice Wallace.”

Sarlo said he fully supports Senate President Stephen Sweeney’s position on not granting a hearing to the Governor’s nominee, saying to do so would give legitimacy to the administration’s politicizing of the judiciary.