Two NJ vicinages temporarily suspend civil, matrimonial trials

Dawn Furnas//February 7, 2023

Two NJ vicinages temporarily suspend civil, matrimonial trials

Dawn Furnas//February 7, 2023

In response to the “vacancy crisis” in the state’s courts, New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner issued a statement Feb. 7 announcing that civil and matrimonial trials will not be conducted in two vicinages.

Beginning Feb. 21, these trials – except for a few exceptions – will be suspended “for the immediate future” in Vicinage 13, covering Hunterdon, Somerset and Warren counties, and Vicinage 15, covering Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties.

Rabner called the vacancies in these two regions “particularly challenging.” In Vicinage 13, there are five vacancies out of a total of 20 judicial positions. In Vicinage 15, there are nine vacancies out of 28 judgeships. 

New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner

“At this time, there are 69 vacancies throughout the trial courts – more than one out of every six positions statewide,” Rabner said in the statement. “That imposes heightened responsibilities on sitting judges who handle thousands of proceedings and motions each month.  

“In addition, for the past three years, the court system has operated with an average of more than 50 vacancies,” he continued. “That situation, along with the effects of the COVID crisis, has contributed to delays in handling individual cases and substantial increases in backlog.” 

Exceptions to the civil and matrimonial suspensions will be “proceedings in which an individual’s liberty is at stake, like criminal and juvenile delinquency matters; cases that present potential emergencies, like complaints of domestic violence; and other time-sensitive matters,” Rabner said.

He warned that other vicinages may face similar suspensions if openings aren’t filled. 

In May 2022, Rabner addressed these vacancies during his State of the Judiciary remarks, delivered at the New Jersey State Bar Association Convention in Atlantic City.  

“To address that backlog and give people their day in court requires more than just scheduling trial dates,” he said at the time. “We need judges who can credibly say to the parties, ‘Have your case ready next Monday. We’ll start picking a jury then.’ In too many areas today, we are simply unable to do that because of the sustained and growing number of judicial vacancies in the Superior Court.” 

In his latest plea, Rabner added, “We recognize that when the doors of the courthouse are closed – even partially – people entitled to their day in court suffer real harm. We therefore respectfully call on the Executive and Legislative branches to address the current vacancy crisis in Vicinages 13 and 15 as well as other parts of the state. We are prepared to assist in any way that would be helpful.”