Retired SC justice among those to serve on N.J. bar association's judicial task force

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Oct 31, 2013

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (Legal Newsline) -- A retired state Supreme Court justice is among those who will serve on a New Jersey State Bar Association task force formed to address the "ongoing threats" to the state's judicial independence.

On Wednesday, Bar Association President Ralph J. Lamparello named the remaining 12 members to the Task Force on Judicial Independence. They are:

- Retired Justice James H. Coleman Jr., the first African-American man to serve on the Supreme Court. Coleman served on the state's high court from 1994-2003, and is now of-counsel to Porzio, Bromberg & Newman;

- Mary M. Ace, a social worker and former trustee of the New Jersey State Bar Foundation;

- Raymond M. Brown, a partner at Greenbaum, Rowe, Smith and Davis in Woodbridge and the host of the Emmy award-winning New Jersey Network Program "Due Process;"

- Retired Judge Philip Carchman, a former Appellate Division judge who also served as acting administrative director of the Administrative Office of the Courts. He is an ex-officio member;

- Barry H. Evenchick, a prominent litigator who has worked widely in government service;

- Edward A. Hartnett, the Richard J. Hughes Professor at Seton Hall Law School;

- Solangel Maldonado, a Seton Hall Law School professor whose scholarship focuses on the intersection of race and family law;

- Carlos Ortiz, Goya Foods' vice president and general counsel;

- Carole B. Moore, a teacher and administrator at the Chapin School with extensive community service experience that includes work with Home Front and Loaves and Fishes;

- Carl D. Poplar, one of New Jersey's leading criminal defense attorneys with 40 years of trial experience;

- Retired Judge Barbara Byrd Wecker, who served as a judge for more than 20 years, including a decade on the Appellate Division. She is now with Greenberg, Dauber, Epstein & Tucker; and

- Robert F. Williams, a Rutgers University School of Law-Camden distinguished professor who is the associate director of its Center for State Constitutional Studies.

The task force's co-chairs were named previously. They are: Dorothea O'C. Wefing, a former Appellate Division judge who served temporarily on the Supreme Court, and Maurice Gallipoli, a former assignment judge in Hudson County.

"The membership of this task force represents some the very finest minds not just in New Jersey's legal community, but in all of New Jersey, to examine this issue, which is of paramount importance to our democracy," Lamparello said in a statement Wednesday.

"They bring a wealth of different personal and professional experiences and backgrounds to study the threats facing the independence of the judiciary as a co-equal branch of government."

The task force, which was created to help tone down the ongoing conflict between Gov. Chris Christie and state Senate Democrats over judicial appointments, will examine what led to the current conflict, consider what steps can be taken to prevent it from recurring, and educate the public about the importance of a strong, competent, easily functioning but independent judiciary.

According to the news release, the task force plans to hold a series of hearings in the coming months to share their views and recommendations. After deliberations, the task force will issue a public report suggesting initiatives to address the problem.

Dozens of other lawyers and judges volunteered to assist the task force.

"We were overwhelmed by the positive response to the formation of the task force from our members and colleagues. I am grateful for their passion and interest," Lamparello said.

"While the membership of the task force is limited, I encourage everyone to share their views at the upcoming public hearings. It is critical that all our voices are heard, so we can find a path forward."

Earlier this month, the state's Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously in favor of Judge Faustino Fernandez-Vina to the state's high court.

Christie nominated Fernandez-Vina in August.

The Cuban-born Republican has served as a judge on the New Jersey Superior Court since July 2004.

The governor's previous attempts to fill the two vacant seats on the court have failed. The judiciary committee rejected both of his nominees, including Chatham Mayor Bruce Harris.

The committee, which is controlled by Democrats, voted 7-6 against Harris.

Harris, a finance attorney of 20 years, would have been the third African-American and first openly gay member of the court.

Also last year, the committee voted 7-6 against Assistant Attorney General Philip Kwon.

The committee had issues with the fact that neither Kwon nor Harris had ever worked as a judge before.

Christie, a Republican, has said the stalemate over court nominations boils down to party politics.

"I think these are folks who are just looking for excuse to vote against a Republican on the Supreme Court," the governor said last year, following the vote on Harris' nomination.

If confirmed, Fernandez-Vina would be only the second Latino in the state's history to serve on the Supreme Court.

However, hearings still have not been set for Christie's two other nominees to the high court, Robert Hanna and David Bauman.

Christie nominated Hanna, president of the state Board of Public Utilities and an Independent, and Bauman, a Monmouth County Superior Court judge and a Republican, in December 2012.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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