Sweeney Bill Would Create Pilot Program for Regional Municipal Courts in Three Counties

Trenton – Legislation sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney that would create a pilot program for the regionalization of municipal courts was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee today.

The legislation, S-3049, would establish a program in at least three counties with no fewer than five municipalities in each county to assess the effectiveness of consolidation. The specific counties and municipalities would be determined by the Administrative Director of the Courts in consultation with county assignment judges.

“The New Jersey Supreme Court Working Group on Municipal Courts strongly recommended consolidating the state’s smaller municipal courts as a means of promoting efficiency and cost savings,” said Senator Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland). “Another committee formed by the Chief Justice found that consolidation would help prevent municipal courts from imposing inequitable fees for the purpose of generating revenue, a practice that disproportionately burdens communities of color and the poor.

“Clearly, municipal court regionalization could improve the quality of justice at the local level at the same time that it produces taxpayer savings,” Senator Sweeney concluded.

The Supreme Court’s working group found that more than 100 municipal courts handled fewer than 20 filings a week in the previous year, including three that had handled no cases at all.

The regional courts would have jurisdiction over all matters falling within the jurisdiction of the municipal courts that are part of the pilot program. All fees and fines collected by the regional municipal courts would be shared on a pro rata basis equivalent to the costs of operating the regional system.

The bill would allow any county that has previously considered municipal court consolidation on a countywide basis to be included in the pilot program.

The pilot programs would begin hearing cases one year following enactment of the legislation.

The committee vote was 8-2 with one abstention.