Tag Archive: judiciary

Warren County Built a Courtroom Wrong. Freeholders Won’t Admit Fault.

There has been a dispute in Warren County for the past few years, ever since they built a courtroom with a pillar that blocks the defense tables’ view of the jury and witness stand.

How can a defendant be afforded a fair trial if his lawyers are not allowed to see the witness stand, much less a jury?

It was a boner of a move by the county to pay for a courtroom that can’t be used, but these things happen.

There have been too many delays in an already crowded courthouse. It’s a very frustrating thing. Anyone who has made a similar mistake can sympathize, but the all-GOP freeholder board should have known better.

The rules were available to the county and to the architects they hired when they decided to build it anyway. They should admit their mistakes and rebuild. But no, here come the talking points: “It’s about taxpayer money!

The County’s solution?

A state senate bill proposal would give the County the power to decide that denying a defendant’s right to full access to the courts is “suitable” solely because they don’t want to be responsible for raising the money to fix it.  

This Morning: Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Christie Supreme Court Nominees Kwon & Harris

UPDATE: Legislature’s video streaming has begun, with NJTV’s Michael Aron providing an introduction. Excellent to see NJTV step into live coverage of the legislature. Hearing begins with a statement by Phillip Kwon.

Phillip Kwon and Bruce Harris
Kwon (hand on chin) & Harris (far right)

The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Gov. Chris Christie’s high court nominees Phillip Kwon and Bruce Harris is scheduled to start at 10:30 this morning (note: committee hearings often begin late).

Two ways you can follow along:

1. Listen live at the NJ Legislature’s media page.

You will need Windows Media Player, which you can download free from a link at the page. Refresh the media page frequently until the hearing status goes from Pending to Available.

2. @bluejersey Follow Blue Jersey’s live-Tweet account of the proceedings.

Senator Loretta Weinberg, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee tells Blue Jersey that she expects this hearing will run late into the day.

Senate Judiciary Committee member list

Five Questions For Chris Cerf

This Thursday, ACTING NJ Education Commissioner Chris Cerf will have his long-delayed confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Here are five questions they should force him to answer (really answer, not dance around):

1) What are the exact circumstances of the Edison stock deal Cerf made using money from the Florida teachers pensions, and why did Cerf continue to hold the stock even after he took a job at the NYC DOE? 

Cerf put together a sweetheart deal for himself when his old company, Edison Learning, turned into an educational and fiscal disaster on his watch. That deal was paid for with funds from Florida’s teachers, over their objections. And Cerf held the stock after he starting working for the NYC Education Department; he divested just before a parents group was going to out him. The investigation into his conflict of interest found he had violated the law, but the report was heavily redacted when it was released to the public.

Cerf needs to come clean, once and for all, about exactly what happened.

2) Why is there so much secrecy and cronyism surrounding the reorganization of Newark’s schools?

Cerf’s old firm, Global Education Advisers, got a half-a-million dollar fee to engineer a secret report that reorganized Newark’s schools (with no community input). The money was provided by a LA billionaire, Eli Broad, who also paid for Cerf to attend his “superintendent’s academy,” an unaccredited program that teaches school leaders to bring corporate practices to education. Cerf changed his story when confronted about his role in this deal. Reports allege Cerf’s family may have been involved. Nearly one-third of the Zuckerberg-Facebook donation already spent has gone to associates of Cerf’s. Another associate got Broad money to reorganize the NJ DOE.

The citizens of Newark are left wondering why there are such radical changes in their schools – including a $150 million complex that will house both charter schools and teachers’ apartments together – guided by outsiders, with little to no community control.

3) Why is there so little transparency and community involvement in the approval process for charter schools?

The names of charter application reviewers were kept secret in earlier rounds; it turns out the reviewers had little experience in running schools. DOE officials reportedly said they would “go to the mat” to protect the names of the reviewers. Subsequent rounds also featured reviewers light on experience. The DOE still refuses to release the reviewers’ ratings and comments.

Charters with supporters who have strong ties to the Christie administration are approved, while others are not. A charter in Cherry Hill is approved over strenuous objections by the community; that charter appears to have a financial conflict of interest, and its founder clear ties to the Christie administration. The DOE encourages “boutique charters” to reapply even when previous applications had clear falsehoods.

It’s been 342 days since Chris Cerf promised a report on charter schools – a real report that takes into account student characteristics – “as quickly as is humanly possible.” Where is that report?

4) Why does Cerf insist that the “achievement gap” is evidence for imposing his radical reforms when New Jersey has so many high-performing students and schools?

New Jersey’s schools are among the best in the nation by many standards. The “achievement gap” is caused not by relatively poor performance by minority and poor students, but by outstanding performance by all students. States with small “achievement gaps” are usually characterized by poor performance by all groups.

5) Why does Cerf insist on pushing unproven or disproven reforms on schools that are already among the best in the world?

Even Cerf himself can’t deny that New Jersey has many great students and many great schools. Yet he insists on imposing a series of reforms on all of New Jersey’s schools – merit pay, the elimination of tenure, expanded charter schools, teacher evaluations through standardized tests – that have not been shown to work.

This makes no sense, and is dangerous: “reforms” like this could harm New Jersey’s schools for generations to come.

Contact information for the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee can be found here. Contact them and politely insist that they ask Cerf these five questions.

Nominees Phillip Kwon, Bruce Harris: On Supreme Court, Proceed With Great Caution

In the wake of a torrent of news and opinion about Governor Christie’s nominations of Bruce Harris and Phillip Kwon for the New Jersey Supreme Court, we have a message for Governor Christie: Thank you for bucking the trend of your party and recognizing the need for people of all backgrounds to serve in positions of power. And we have a message for the State Senate: Proceed with great caution.

Governor Christie deserves credit for nominating Harris, the gay, African-American mayor of Chatham, and Kwon, a Korean-American immigrant who has served with Christie as a prosecutor and in his Attorney General’s office. At a time when the Republican Party has become at a national level reflexively anti-LGBT, prone to offensive stereotypes of African-Americans, and virulently anti-immigrant, Christie has sent a message with his nominations that people of color and LGBT people have a place in the highest echelons of government. That message follows on Christie’s strong defense of his Superior Court nominee Sohail Mohammed against Republican critics of Muslims becoming judges.

But we also need to put Christie’s actions in context. As the Philadelphia Inquirer pointed out recently, the all-white composition of the current New Jersey Supreme Court was Christie’s own doing, after his unjustified booting of Justice John Wallace and his failure to replace retiring Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto with another Latino justice. And Christie’s homogenization of the state’s courts has extended to the trial courts, where the vast majority of people interacting with the court system end up. According to the latest official report of the Supreme Court Committee on Minority Concerns (at p. 125):


I observed the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today and expected fireworks in the hearing to confirm Bob Hanna to be President of the Board of Public Utilities, but instead of fireworks, we got a dud.

Hanna’s confirmation was a love fest, and the committee unanimously advanced it to the full Senate for final approval. From what I can tell, although Hanna has had limited experience in the world of utilities and telecommunications, he’s a well-respected lawyer and public servant, and there’s no reason to deny the Governor’s appointment of Mr. Hanna to the BPU.

But our state senators are not shrinking violets (more on this later), and this hearing was a golden opportunity to raise some concerns and get Hanna’s response. No doubt he agrees with the Governor on the important issues facing the board, but he should have been asked about the state’s withdrawal from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (right after the Governor had a secret meeting with the Koch Brothers), the impact of the Governor’s de-emphasis of renewable energy in the state’s Energy Master Plan, and the Governor’s hidden tax increase when Mr. Christie took the money from the Societal Benefit Fund (a surcharge on your utility bill) to help balance the budget instead of investing those dollars in clean energy.

Under the Dome: Senate Budget Committee

While much attention will likely still be on the replacement of Justice Wallace, the Senate Budget Committee will take their look at proposed FY 2011 budgets for the Department of Law and Public Safety, The Judiciary and the Department of Children and Familes today.

With the Department of Children and Families, the Governor has proposed eliminating the Office of Child Advocate Overall, they are facing a proposed 4% cut. I wonder how long it takes for Justice Wallace to come up in the Judiciary hearing. And the Department of Law and Public Safety budget is facing a 7% cut.

The hearings will be streamed live with audio and NJN will be carrying the hearings as well if you want to watch. Their live coverage is scheduled to begin at 10:00 am. I’ve embeded their feed:

NJ Courts embrace social media while schools try to find the line

Not only are campaigns, governmental entities and businesses embracing social media, the NJ Courts have gone high tech as well. They are using rss feeds, text message and they’re on twitter too:

Court users can sign up for breaking news alerts via short message service (SMS) text alerts on their cell phones.  Users sign up for the service through a link on the Judiciary home page, njcourts.com.  The text messages will announce unscheduled court closings and other high priority information so that users who are not in the office or at home in front of their computers will receive the information in real time on their cell phones.  The Judiciary also has begun using Twitter to send short “tweets” about breaking court news.  To sign up for either of these options, users can click on the SMS or Twitter links on the Judiciary home page.  Those links will take them to the appropriate Web sites to sign up for those services.

They’re also on Facebook:

Facebook users can join the group “New Jersey Courts” to see press releases, court information and photos of court events. The Judiciary’s Facebook page is updated daily and the links can be shared with others who are not currently members of the group.

And they’re also using Youtube:

Finally, the Judiciary has begun posting videos on YouTube for court users to learn more about the courts.  Topics covered by the videos include the Judiciary’s mortgage foreclosure mediation program and the Veteran’s Assistance Project.  Future videos will address help available for self-represented litigants and volunteer opportunities.  To find video clips about the New Jersey courts, go to youtube.com/njcourts.  

Even ELEC is using youtube now. But while the courts and other entities are embracing these technological shifts, NJ schools are trying to draw some lines. Follow me below the fold for more on their struggles with social media.