Christie nominates more judges to fill vacancies in Essex courts

By Bill Wichert | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on June 16, 2015

NEWARK — After Gov. Chris Christie and Democratic legislators reached a deal last year to add eight new Superior Court judges in Essex County, the governor has nominated another eight judges to join their ranks in the state's busiest courthouses.

On Monday, the governor submitted nominations to the State Senate for 14 judges, including eight who are expected to be assigned to Essex County if they are confirmed.

The Essex vicinage had 15 judicial vacancies as of May 29, representing the highest number among the vicinages in the state, according to judiciary spokeswoman Winnie Comfort.

State Sen. Ron Rice (D-Essex) said the nominations are a "blessing to the county."

"Those judges are really working hard up there and...we need to give them some help," Rice said on Tuesday in a phone interview. "This is an important move, and it just goes to show when people communicate and try and cooperate, you can get things done."

The nominations mark the latest step to fill judicial vacancies in Essex County after several years of feuding between Christie, a Republican, and Democratic lawmakers.

The political standoff put a tremendous strain on the Essex vicinage as vacancies went unfilled and the remaining judges were faced with an increasing caseload.

As a result, more retired judges were brought in to serve on a recall basis, and judges from other counties were transferred to Essex. Complex civil trials and matrimonial trials also were suspended due to the shortage of judges.

By last year, the number of vacancies stood at 21.

In the latest round of nominations, the eight nominees are: Mark S. Ali of Verona; John I. Gizzo of Nutley; John Zunic of Cedar Grove; Bridget A. Stecher of Fairfield; Russell J. Passamano of West Orange; James R. Paganelli of Verona; Nora J. Grimbergen of West Caldwell; and Lisa Adubato of Cranford.

Although Adubato resides in Union County, she is expected to be assigned to Essex.

With an increased number of judges in Essex County, cases will hopefully move more quickly through the system, said Judith Hartz, president of the Essex County Bar Association.

While there will still be vacancies, Hartz said the nominations are a "welcome development for Essex County."

"It'll provide relief to the sitting judges, that's for sute, and the community at large in Essex County," Hartz said on Tuesday in a phone interview.

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