The recent decision by Governor Chris Christie to eliminate County Judicial and Prosecutorial Appointment Committees (JPACs), coupled with substantial modifications to the long existing compact between the Governor’s Office and the New Jersey State Bar Association is a matter of “substantial concern” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Nicholas P. Scutari (D-Union). Under the prior compact, which was in effect for almost fifty years, all Governors agreed that any candidate for Judicial or Prosecutorial Office who was not favorably approved by the State Judicial and Prosecutorial Appointments Committee would not be released for nomination. The new agreement, which was signed by State Bar President Alan Etish last week, eliminated the binding effect the State JPAC’s recommendation would have on an unqualified candidate, and provides that a candidate, if deemed not qualified, could still be nominated by the Governor.
“The input of the legal community is critical to a full and fair evaluation of a candidate’s qualifications” said Scutari. “The local JPACs traditionally were in a superior position to provide information and evaluation of candidates from their particular county based upon personal knowledge and experience. The elimination of the county JPACs will greatly diminish the amount of information which will eventually be considered in deciding whether or not to approve a candidate.”
Senator Scutari noted that he had been contacted by numerous attorneys who expressed their dissatisfaction with the elimination of the County JPAC Committees, essentially echoing the sentiment that those who are in the best position to provide evaluations have been removed from the process entirely. Others went further, suggesting that the State Bar Association’s acceptance of the new compact which eliminates the provision that non-qualified candidates would not be released for nomination, renders the State Committee’s role in the process a virtual nullity.
Senator Scutari assured the Bar Association that the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has the authority to review all gubernatorial appointments, including judges and prosecutors, “will consider input from attorneys and Bar Association groups regarding candidates for Judicial and Prosecutorial office”. He noted that “there are few more qualified to render an opinion as to the candidacy of a particular applicant than his or her peers in the profession,” and promised that the legal community will continue to be an important source of information concerning candidates nominated by the Governor’s Office.