Tag Archive: NJ Supreme Court

Christie loses in court: NJ Supreme reject his attempt to kill off COAH

The New Jersey Supreme Court today rules 5-2 that Gov. Chris Christie does not have the power to abolish agencies intended to be independent.

“The plain language of the Reorganization Act does not authorize the Chief Executive to abolish an independent agency like COAH.”

       – from the decision, written by Chief Justice Stuart Rabner

Read the decision. And here are the briefs and additional info.

Today’s decision upholds an appellate court ruling in 2012 which reached the same conclusion. Adam Gordon of Fair Share Housing Center argued the case at the Supreme Court:

“The Supreme Court’s decision ensures greater public participation and transparency in important decisions on where homes get built. It’s a bad idea for policies involving homes for working families, people with special needs, and lower-income seniors to be made behind closed doors.  Especially after Sandy, we need to encourage more homes for people of all incomes.”

The Court found that the statute that created COAH requires bipartisan control of the Council, with no more than 6 of its 12 members from the same party. The membership requirements call for a cross-section of community and state interests to make sure different voices have representation, including local government, households in need of low- and moderate-income housing, nonprofit builders of affordable housing, the disabled, for-profit builders, and the public interest.

In other words, a balanced group to better serve people in need, not a housing policy directed by one guy. Particularly one who has demonstrated little interest in serving communities in need. This decision comes as the Christie administration is trying to take $165 million in housing trust funds from municipalities, which translates to thousands of homes that wouldn’t be built. Gordon stresses that today’s decision is the Court’s rejection of “the Governor’s attempt to shut the public out of this process.”

Amazing. We called Christie out on his attempts at naked power grabs back in 2010. Not much has changed in his methods or his direction since then.  

Senator Ray Lesniak on Marriage Equality

Senator Ray Lesniak spoke briefly at yesterday’s marriage equality press conference in the State House. He is solidly behind the idea of overriding the Governor’s veto and urged the Governor to put politics aside and allow the GOP legislators to vote their conscience. If this happens, Lesniak said, we will have equality in New Jersey.

Lesniak also pointed out that this week’s DOMA decision by the US Supreme Court does have an impact on New Jersey, and that a judicial remedy should also be pursued.

You are what you do, not what you say

There was an interesting line in the Governor’s press conference announcing his picks for the NJ Supreme Court.  In response to questions that will come regarding his nominees, the Governor said:

You are what you say you are, not what other people say you are

While that sounds like a good soundbite, it’s complete nonsense.  You are what you do, not what you say.  Actions speak louder than words, so the nominees should be judged on what they do and have done, as much if not more than what they say or others say about them.

Hanna & Bauman – Christie’s latest nominees to NJ Supreme Court

As Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg notes, Christie announced two nominees – Robert Hanna and David Bauman – to the NJ Supreme Court today. Weinberg, of course, is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which holds the power to confirm or deny these nominees. Star-Ledger quotes Christie as discussing the nominees with Weinberg’s Senate leadership partner, Senate President Steve Sweeney, for two months. Christie is denying any dealmaking with Sweeney.  

Christie has often drawn on former underlings of his tenure as US Attorney for promotion to plum jobs; Hanna was already serving in the civil division there for 12 years before Christie was appointed US Attorney by President George W. Bush. Christie named Hanna BPU president about a year ago. Prior to that, he was Director of the NJ Division of Law (a Christie appointment as governor-elect). Before that Hanna was with the politically-connected law firm of Gibbons P.C. (where Christie pal Bill Palatucci just landed as special counsel after his so-very-quiet exit from his privatized halfway house business, not long after becoming a named defendant in a wrongful death suit, and the subject of both a New York Times special investigation and NJ legislative hearings).

Hanna, 54, is unaffiliated, says Christie. Bauman is a registered Republican.

Christie, whose efforts to politicize New Jersey’s courts are obvious to anyone paying attention, hoped to fully stock the high court with Republicans. That effort was tested earlier this year with his nominations of Philip Kwon and Bruce Harris. Harris is a Republican, Kwon an unaffiliated voter. But both were rejected by the NJ Senate Judiciary Committee on the basis of both partisan balance (Kwon was a longtime member of the GOP before moving to NJ) and qualifications. Both have now been farmed to jobs at the Port Authority of NY/NJ, something Christie can and does make happen for those needing a soft landing.

Like Kwon/Harris, the Bauman/Hanna nominations have an attractive component of diversity to offer the high court. If confirmed, Bauman would be the first Asian American justice to serve the NJ Supreme Court; he was the first appointed to the Monmouth County Superior Court just four years ago.  

Weekend ME Poll: Eye on the New Jersey Supreme Court

The question this weekend was How will Marriage Equality arrive first in NJ?  Of the 19 votes cast, the majority of respondents (10 votes) said “through a NJ Supreme Court ruling.” Three respondents chose through “NJ Legislature’s override of Christie’s veto.” Two respondents each voted for the “US Supreme Court,” a “voter referendum,” and “some other venue.”

The fact that a majority of poll respondents believe we will get Marriage Equality through a NJ Supreme Court ruling highlights the importance of the nomination process underway. Of the current five justices two are Democrats (Chief Justice Stuart Rabner and Justice Barry Albin), two are Republican (Justices Helen Hoens and Anne Patterson) and one is Independent/Republican (Justice Jaynee LaVecchia). Governor Christie has already nominated out gay Bruce Harris, who it is said will recuse himself on marriage equality if he receives Senate confirmation. Governor Christie has yet to nominate a second candidate, and it seems that if Christie has his way the nominee will not support marriage equality. We may be headed toward a Supreme Court of seven members with only two Democrats.

In 2006 the court unanimously agreed that the state marriage law was unconstitutional with respect to the equal protection of same sex couples. Three Democratic justices argued that the only constitutional remedy was an amendment of state marriage law to include same-sex couples, but none of these justices remain on the bench. Four justices, the majority, ruled that the legislature could either amend marriage laws to allow ME or create civil unions. Two of these justices who were comfortable with civil unions are still on the bench (Justices Rabner and LaVecchia), and the other two have left.

There has been substantial change in the public’s attitude toward ME since 2006, and what the court might decide is anyone’s guess. To review the poll and comments go here, or for more information on the current Supreme Court go here.  

Sweeney & Weinberg: Statements on Supreme Court Confirmation Process

Yesterday’s explosive Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, which ended with a 7-6 rejection of Gov. Christie’s nominee Phillip Kwon and a string of incendiary words from some of the committee Republicans, brought out an altogether expected burst of bluster from the Governor, who called the hearing a “circus”.

After all the sturm und drang, it’s important not to lose the substance of the objections raised in yesterday’s questions and answers. There were serious issues at issue for the committee, as two statements released today by Senator Loretta Weinberg, Senate Majority Leader, member of the Judiciary Committee and also of the Blue Jersey community, and Senate President Steve Sweeney, who was present for the vote.

What did Weinberg & Sweeney say? Jump with me …

Senate Judiciary Votes Down Christie Supreme Court nominee Phillip Kwon

“… side show

lynching

left-wing

freak show

..  Korean witch hunt …”

Attendees at today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Supreme Court nominee Phillip Kwon – and those who watched NJTV’s coverage live – got an earful today as Republican members of the committee ratcheted up the rhetoric into the stratosphere unable to sit still as Democrats put questions to Christie’s nominee. Kwon would have been the first Asian American to serve on New Jersey’s high court.

In the end, after a full day of questioning and testimony, the panel voted 7-6 against Kwon, with Senator Brian Stack voting alongside the Republicans.

Blue Jersey maintained a nearly 8-hour Live-Tweet account of the proceedings @bluejersey. We will have video coverage and interviews posted tomorrow, with a first interview with Blue Jersey’s own Senator Loretta Weinberg later tonight.  

O’Toole, whose mother is Korean-born, has been vocal in his support of Kwon in the run-up to this hearing, speaking publicly alongside the something called the Korean American Voters Council, and former Edison Mayor Jun Choi. But today, O’Toole plunged deep into angry vitriol:

“We didn’t have a hearing. We had a lynching. I don’t think this nominee was given a fair chance.”

                        –  Sen. Kevin O’Toole, Republican Whip

Sen. Weinberg, Senate Majority Leader and a member of the Committee, suggested Christie tried to pass Kwon off as an independent, blaming the Governor’s drive to remake the Court in his own image.

She was also apparently unsatisfied with the committee’s findings of his family’s finances, including his wife’s income, which was investigated by federal authorities for suspicious deposits. “I don’t think we got all the real answers, and for that reason I am voting no.”

More, plus the vote count, below the fold.

The Senate Should Reject The Two Supreme Court Nominations

“In nominating Bruce Harris and Phillip Kwon to the state Supreme Court, Christie has done what no other governor has ever done – tried to make the Supreme Court an arm of his political party. Now, Christie is asking the Legislature to accept three Republican nominations in a row.” – James Harris, President, NJ NAACP

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to meet on Thursday to review Governor Christie’s two recent Supreme Court nominations of Phillip Kwon and Bruce Harris, following upon his nomination of Anne Patterson, who was confirmed last year. Christie has made no secret of his intentions, “saying he wanted to rein in a court he considers too activist.”

“Activist” in matters Christie approves of is perfectly acceptable (such as denying marriage equality), but the court’s recent decisions on school education and  the Council on Affordable Housing are not to his liking. Christie touts Mr. Kwon as an independent, yet for ten years living in NY Kwon was a registered Republican, and only changed his affiliation to Independent when he moved to Closter in 2010. Christie made much of the fact that Mr. Harris is openly gay. However Christie also said Harris agreed to recuse himself from voting on gay issues that come before the Supreme Court if he is approved.

So our governor is acting cleverly but improperly in proposing one individual whose credential as an independent is dubious and unsubstantiated and another individual who as an openly gay man will recuse himself in civil rights cases at the heart of his own identity.

Other questions will be broached during the hearings, including Kwon’s involvement in his family liquor store and Harris’ limited legal experience outside the world of high finance. Regardless, the Senate should reject these nominations. Christie should nominate new individuals who are what they say they are and who do not agree to tying one arm behind their back.  

Sun Shines On NJSLOM: NJ Supremes Rule Powerful State League Subject To OPRA

promoted by Rosi

Each year the annual conference of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities (NJSLOM) is held in AC—always held in November after elections and before Thanksgiving. This is the largest annual gathering of state elected officials in the country. And until yesterday, NJSLOM could operate in relative secrecy from public scrutiny.

But, no more.

Yesterday, the NJ Supremes ruled unanimously that NJSLOM is “a public agency whose records are subject to disclosure”, in a opinion written by Justice Barry Albin.

Clocks start again on NJ foreclosures

New Jersey continues to be the ‘Wild West’ of foreclosure consulting. Hair stylists are required to undergo more government scrutiny than foreclosure consultants.

                                                    – Asm Gary Schaer, Passaic

Gary Schaer says families faced with homelessness are turning to foreclosure consultants and ‘rescue firms’ in a last-ditch effort to hold onto their homes. Unfortunately, he says, some of them are nothing more than fronts for elaborate schemes to rob homeowners of their hard-bought equity. Schaer’s the sponsor of the Foreclosure Rescue Fraud Prevention Act (A-359), which passed both houses unanimously, and has been waiting for the Governor’s signature since June 29, when it got final legislative approval.

The bill requires foreclosure consultants and distressed property purchasers who contract with owners of residential properties in financial distress to adhere to certain practices in providing foreclosure prevention services to owners.

Among the bill’s provisions are some rules for short-sales. In short-sales, the generally accepted percentage banks try to recoup is 82% of the fair market value. Schaer’s legislation advocates parity; that vulnerable homeowners should get the same renumeration as the big banks. He calls this a necessary protection, given that many property owners have received just pennies on the dollar for their distressed property – and sometimes nothing at all.

In December, NJ Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner ruled that 6 of the state’s biggest lenders had to demonstrate they were treating homeowners fairly during foreclosure proceedings.  The order slowed filings in the first half of this year to a near halt. A ruling Monday in NJ Superior Court allows many of the state’s biggest mortgage providers to continue with foreclosure proceedings.

A lot of New Jersey families are living on the brink. It’s obviously in the best interest of the state to tighten up regulations that impact anything as serious as foreclosure. The bill’s been sitting on Christie’s desk for weeks. New Jersey Citizen Action and NJ Legal Services both back it. Support’s also come from the NJ Bankers Association, NJ Realtors Association, and NJ Land Title Association. The NJ Department of Banking and Insurance has urged legislators to sign it. Christie should either sign it, or come up with reasons why not.

Clock’s ticking.