Tag Archive: law

Pen/Ben Court Hearing at 10:00 am AND Christie Introduces a Distraction

<<10:30 am The hearing webcast should be appearing here shortly in a Windows Media Player.>>

The N. J. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today on the Pen/Ben case starting at about 10:00 am at the Hughes Justice Complex, 25 Market St., Trenton. Do not expect to find seating unless you have already reserved it. To watch online you can access the live webcast at njcourts.com starting at 10 am. Other outlets will also likely broadcast the hearings.  

On the evening before the court’s hearing, which includes whether the State must make an additional payment of about $1.6 billion into the the pension fund by June 30, Gov. Christie’s office issued a statement. “Encouraging state revenues might provide another $200 million to pump into the public worker pension system this year.” The timing of this announcement seems quite convenient and not coincidental. It makes for a nice headline, but it will not distract the court from the merits of the case. The $200 million is only a small piece of what is due, and “might provide” does not mean “will provide.”

The statement is based on the Tax Collection Report of March 31, 2015 which indicates year to date collections at $18.4 billion are 5.3% above last year. That is good news. However, the report goes on to project revenue for the year at $32.6 billion (a 5.3% increase) which may or may not fully materialize. To achieve the projection revenue for the year, $14.2 billion would have to be collected in the last three months. Such is not impossible as amounts due on income tax are often not paid until April 15 or later. However, with such a large sum due in a few months, any projection is highly speculative.

In effect it is still too early to determine whether $200 million more will be available, and it’s irrelevant to main issue. The issue before the court is the constitutionality of the Pen/Ben law and what payment plan the State must follow. Good try, Governor Christie.

Tragedy at Rutgers: Who is Responsible For Caitlyn’s Death?

According to local papers, around 3 a.m. last night at the Delta Kappa Epsilon house, on the campus of Rutgers University, a young female student, Caitlyn P. Kovacs was experiencing “severe distress” before being taken to a local hospital. The details are still a bit spotty; we do not yet know if she had already died in the house or died shortly upon arriving at the hospital. Either way, police are already stating publicly that they think her death was ‘alcohol related.’ This term is a bit of a loaded one, but in basic terms it means either a person has died of alcohol positioning or, because of their intoxicated state, died due to a fall or some other physical misfortune.

Years ago, an incident like this would have been considered a personal tragedy, primarily the fault of the deceased. Not anymore. Over the past two decades the state of New Jersey has passed a myriad of laws that have shifted the responsibility for such actions to the adult hosts, be they parents or a bunch of partying Frat boys. New Jersey’s ‘Social Host Liability Act’ and related laws additionally have added several serious criminal and civil penalties to such situations, from jail time to steep fines to both. And these laws in no way eclipse the right of victim’s families to sue for damages in case people are hurt or, as in this recent case, killed.

So assuming that this young woman, who was under 21, did indeed receive and consume enough alcohol to result in her untimely death on the premises of the Delta Kappa Epsilon house, it’s fair to say that a measurable degree of justice is due, and perhaps some real policy changes.

First, let’s talk justice. Again, assuming the above is true, I do not think it would be unreasonable for the victim’s family, in recognition of the pain they’re undergoing and the loss experienced, to take possession of the Frat House. Yes, you read that right. The Frat House, the object that lured their loved one to her death, ought to be legally seized and transferred to the victim’s family. What they do with it is their business. This approach has been an effective way to punish regressive civic organizations in the past, especially the Klan in Georgia. One of the reasons why the KKK is no longer an overarching, united national organization (it once was) was due to the lawsuits of its victims.

I am not calling for the physical dissolution of the fraternity, because people still have the right to associate with each other in civic organizations. If the Frat’s members chose to continue to do so, that’s just fine. But if justice is to be served, this fraternity ought to be reduced to a bunch of guys meeting over a campfire in the woods on a year ’round basis.

Additionally, this is a university issue. Rutgers has been trying extremely hard to increase awareness of the university’s profile, history and reputation. Millions and millions of dollars has been invested in public relations campaigns, Big 10 membership activities, athletics and the like. A tragic and completely preventable death like this one, along with the subsequent negative publicity, squanders much of that investment.

The University ought to completely reconsider its policy towards this Fraternity and others like it. Frankly, it ought to totally and completely disassociate itself from these kinds of organizations and societies. Groups that encourage underage drinking and this kind of havoc have no place in any sort of official relationship with Rutgers, especially one that might bring them specific advantages.

Caitlyn had her entire life ahead of her, and she died under the supervision of other adults. These Fraternities want all of the advantages of being independent adult societies with none of the responsibilities. Well, they do have responsibilities, the foremost guaranteeing that if someone enters their Frat house alive they’ll leave the same way. But Caitlyn did not.


McCutcheon vs. FEC: U.S. Supreme Court Strikes Down Another Campaign Finance Law

The Court that brought you the Citizens United decision, upholding the concept of “corporate personhood” and allowing corporations and unions to spend unlimited money independently to influence elections, today struck down federal limits on overall campaign contributions the biggest individual donors may make to candidates, political parties and political action committees. Your $35 check, even your $1,000 check, is now worth maybe a little less in the new world of how campaigns are paid for.

Though the contribution limits to candidates for president or Congress stays the same – $2,600 – the Court decided that limits on the total amount given are unconstitutional. This removes the ceiling for wealthy donors, who no longer have to add up all their checks written to make sure they haven’t exceeded the cap currently set by the federal government.

It was a 5-4 decision, with Chief Justice Roberts writing the decision. The Court found that the limits violate the First Amendment rights of contributors. It’s a green light to superwealthy donors. They, and everyone else have been restricted from giving no more than $48,600 to federal candidates, and $74,600 to political action committees during a two-year election cycle, for a maximum of $123,200. Those limits were part of post-Watergate reforms, to make it harder for big contributors to buy elections with their outsized wallets, and to restore public confidence in campaign finance.

We’re moving backwards now.

The victory goes to Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama businessman and GOP activist who challenged the cap on contributions. The RNC is already on record cheering the decision.

  • Here’s the decision – McCutcheon et al vs. Federal Election Commission.

  • Here’s a list of federal primary candidates on the NJ ballot.

  • Mother Jones walks through the implications.

  • Washington Post has the decision’s Winners & Losers.

  • Always worth reading – SCOTUSblog. Also, their live-blog from this morning.


  • Marsha & Louise: #1 on PolitickerNJ’s 2013 Power List

    Marsha Shapiro & Louise Walpin

    Marsha Shapiro and Louise Walpin got the #1 spot in PolitickerNJ’s annual Power List this morning. It’s the slot typically reserved by them for people who represent “something symbolic and iconic about politics in the state right now”. It’s a dead-on choice they made; they’re game-changers. For one thing, NJ marriage equality represents a huge victory over the self-serving politics of Chris Christie in a year he slam-dunked most of his shots. Marsha & Louise are the faces of change years in the making, on the work of names you know but also the labors of many more whose names you’ll never know.

    One of the reasons I’m so happy about this is that Marsha & Louise are my friends. I was a guest at their midnight wedding, an extraordinary night at the home of Sen. Ray Lesniak and Salena Carroll. Sen. Loretta Weinberg gave the brides away. Steven Goldstein, former GSE Chair, said the blessing. My love, Joey Novick, held the chuppah and gave the toast. And in the photo above, my friends are both wearing wedding rings from my family, their “something borrowed”.

    Marsha and Louise, in many ways, are unlikely movement heroes. They’re hardworking, everyday people who were simply trying to do the best for their family, but they took on their role as leaders with extraordinary grace. They speak their mind.

    Behind these women, many others. Children Melissa, Jesse and Scott, daughter-in-law Jacklyn and their grand-daughter. And their late son, Aaron; getting him the medical care he deserved was a defining moment in the family they became, and made clear the importance of having their family recognized for what it is. The legal team behind NJ marriage equality’s victory; Hayley Gorenberg (Lambda Legal), Larry Lustberg (Gibbons PC), and all their co-plaintiffs whose victory this also is. Louise’s employer, Childrens Specialized Hospital – particularly CEO Amy Mansue – were a source of support. And as a board member of Garden State Equality, I know they’d both want Steven particularly recognized, and every person who ever called a legislator or flooded the State House with their sheer numbers. And I’d add in NJ United for Marriage, who came on strong, and well-funded at the end. Its leader Mike Premo now heads to Ohio to lead the marriage movement there.

    Congratulations, Marsha & Louise. Married ladies now.  

    The Senate vacancy: Setting out the law

    Chapter 3 of Title 19 of the New Jersey Code is titled “Offices and Public Questions.”  Article 4 of that chapter is titled “Vacancies in Publlic Office.”  N.J.S.A. 19:3-26, “Vacancies in United States senate; election to fill; temporary appointment by governor,” provides:

    If a vacancy shall happen in the representation of this State in the United States senate, it shall be filled at the general election next succeeding the happening thereof, unless such vacancy shall happen within 70 days next preceding such election, in which case it shall be filled by election at the second succeeding general election, unless the governor of this State shall deem it advisable to call a special election therefor, which he is authorized hereby to do.

    The governor of this State may make a temporary appointment of a senator of the United States from this State whenever a vacancy shall occur by reason of any cause other than the expiration of the term; and such appointee shall serve as such senator until a special election or general election shall have been held pursuant to law and the Board of State Canvassers can deliver to his successor a certificate of election.

    N.J.S.A. 19:3-25 defines “What constitutes a vacancy.”  However, death is not mentioned.

    Chapter 27 of Title 19 is titled, “Special Elections and Filling Vacancies.”  Article 2 of that chapter is entitled “Filling Vacancies.”  N.J.S.A. 19:27-4, titled “Writ of Election,” states:

    When any vacancy happens in the representation of this State in the United States Senate or in the House of Representatives, the Governor shall issue a writ of election to fill the same unless the term of service of the person whose office shall become vacant will expire within six months next after the happening of the vacancy and except as hereinafter provided.

    N.J.S.A. 19:27-6, “Congressional Vacancies,” provides:

    In the case of a vacancy in the representation of this State in the United States Senate or House of Representatives, the writ may designate the next general election day for the election, but if a special day is designated, it shall specify the cause and purpose of such election, the name of the officer in whose office the vacancy has occurred, the day on which a special primary election shall be held, which shall be not less than 70 days nor more than 76 days following the date of such proclamation, and the day on which the special election shall be held, which shall be not less than 64 nor more than 70 days following the day of the special primary election. The writ shall also specify the day or days when the district boards shall meet for the purpose of making, revising or correcting the registers of voters to be used at such special election.

    If the vacancy happens in the representation of this State in the United States Senate the election shall take place at the general election next succeeding the happening thereof, unless the vacancy shall happen within 70 days next preceding the primary election prior to the general election, in which case it shall be filled by election at the second succeeding election, unless the Governor shall deem it advisable to call a special election therefor, which he is authorized hereby to do.

    If the vacancy happens in the representation of this State in the House of Representatives in any year, not later than the 70th day prior to the day for holding the next primary election for the general election, the Governor shall issue a writ of election to fill such vacancy, designating in said writ the next general election day as the day on which the election shall be held to fill such vacancy. The nomination of candidates to fill such vacancy shall be made in the same manner as the nomination of other candidates at the said primary election for the general election.

    Today in Washington, D.C.: Hollingsworth v. Perry

    These are my remarks delivered at this evening’s meeting of the Passaic County Board of Chosen Freeholders:

    Today in Washington, D.C., the United States Supreme Court heard argument in the case of Hollingsworth v. Perry, better known as the California ‘Proposition 8’ case, in which marriage equality of gays and lesbians is disputed.

    This case is important to me not just because I believe marriage equality is the unfinished civil rights business of our time, or because I’ve stood and marched and spoken in support of Garden State Equality here in New Jersey, or even because, like all of us, I have gay friends, neighbors, and colleagues.  The case is important because I hear in it echoes of another case in which my fundamental rights were determined, three years before I was born.

    Open Thread: All Eyes on the United States Supreme Court

    GSE amicus curiae brief. Click to enlarge.

    “The arc of the moral universe is long. But it bends toward justice.”

    – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King 1929-1968

    Beginning this morning, history will be made at the United States Supreme Court. Today, in oral arguments before the Court, advocates make the case that there exists a constitutional right to same-sex marriage that states may not deny. The case is California’s Prop 8, which voters passed in 2008 to define marriage as between a man and woman. It ended the joyous rush to the alter of same-sex couples after that state’s Supreme Court made it legal. The legal challenge worked its way through California courts, now to the highest court in the land. The Obama administration’s Department of Justice is arguing for an “8-state solution” that would bring marriage equality to New Jersey, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, Oregon, and Rhode Island — on the grounds that Prop 8 and other “separate but unequal” civil union/domestic partnership laws are violate equal protection. The Supreme Court also hears DOMA this week; it is the law of the land, but the Obama administration has already declined to defend it.

    One of the many amicus curiae briefs submitted on behalf of the gay California couple at the center of today’s case comes from Garden State Equality. Read it here. New Jersey is, in all ways except by law, a marriage equality state. By 2-1.

    I’ve been thinking all day of the many, many people who brought us to this moment. Among gay people, it is mainly those whose names we will never know because our laws forced them to live their lives and fall in and out of love in secrecy and often in fear. Along with those who spoke out.

    Gay people are waiting for justice, in a country that often fails to provide it. Women know this. Immigrants know this. Disabled people know this. Black people know this.

    As gay people await these decisions, so do straight people like me. What is right is right. We all live better when the people around us are treated as they should be. The gay rights movement follows a path set down by the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and heroes known and unknown. But it also takes that movement’s great lesson; that we move forward as a nation when we give a damn about the people around us; their lives, their freedom, their opportunities, their happiness.

    The arc of the moral universe is long. It bends toward justice. Good luck, everybody.  

    Chris Christie, MD

    Suppose that a young Chris Christie had decided to go to medical school instead of law school. What kind of doctor would he be?

    To answer this question, we need to look inside Christie’s character. We know that he doesn’t support health care for women, so his practice would treat only men. That’s a given, but we need to look a little deeper.

    Christie has demonstrated that he looks at every symptom as binary – either black or white. Like many of his ilk, there are no shades of gray – no nuance. This has been demonstrated repeatedly.

    “…with liberty and justice for some.”

    promoted by Rosi

    Cross-posted from deciminyan

    I am not a lawyer, and am presenting my opinion based on what I can discern from on-line articles.  Input and clarifications from any attorneys reading this blog are encouraged.

    While our nation was founded on the idealistic principal of “justice for all”, and we continually strive toward that goal, it has never been truly attained.  The wealthy can take advantage of high-powered attorneys to help them skirt the law, while the poor obtain their “equal justice” by working with taxpayer-supported public defenders.  Often this works well, with defendants receiving a fair trial, but clearly there are limits.  A rich defendant has almost unlimited resources to spend on obtaining exculpatory evidence and judicial theatrics (remember the OJ trial?).  An indigent defendant’s resources are limited, even with free counsel.  Now, a new thumb on the scale of justice is making it even more difficult for the poor.

    An article in USA Today reports that some states are now restricting public defender services.  In the landmark Gideon vs Wainright case, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional right to an attorney for felony cases.  The participating justices in a New Jersey Supreme Court case on a related issue have ruled unanimously that legal representation for the poor must be provided in any case that might result in incarceration.

    The USA Today article goes on, stating that some states are imposing fees for public defender services.  Defendants are either coerced to waive their right to an attorney or forced to amass huge debts.  Clearly, in a country where almost one person in one hundred is incarcerated, the “rehabilitation” aspect of prison life has been subsumed by a “lock ’em up and throw away the key” attitude.  Elimination of adequate defense for all, combined with the Tea Party’s drive to eviscerate defendants’ Miranda rights, and the growing initiative to privatize prisons under for-profit companies, simply increases the burden on the taxpayer, adds to corporate coffers, and does not address the root cause of the problem.

    Remembering Alan Lowenstein (1913-2007)

    This morning at NJPAC, upwards of 1,000 people gathered to remember and celebrate the life of Alan Lowenstein, who died on May 8.  You may know Alan?s name as half of the law firm Lowenstein Sandler, but his 93-year legacy of public service and personal courage changed New Jersey and Newark permanently and for the better.

    Born in Newark in 1913, Lowenstein was a link between America’s past and its future.  His grandmother heard President Abraham Lincoln speak on the steps of the Essex County Courthouse in 1863.  His “children” ? from Lowenstein Sandler and the Institute for Social Justice to the New Jersey Business Corporations Act and the right of Newarkers to directly elect their mayor ? affect us all still today.