Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Another swing of the wrecking ball: Gov. Christie's refusal of tenure to Justice Hoens

NJ Supreme Court Justice Helen Hoens - abandoned by Gov. Christie despite "voting right"
The New Jersey State Bar Association has rebuked New Jersey governor Chris Christie for denying tenure to Helen Hoens, an Associate Justice.  The state's high court has long been among the nation's best regarded, as Prof. Paul Tractenberg shows in his recent book Courting Justice - 10 New Jersey Cases that Shook the Nation.  Christie  is cruising to reelection on the good vibes left after his post-Sandy hugging with President Obama.  But for New Jersey lawyers and judges the storm has not abated.  Yesterday Christie nominated an undistinguished Camden county trial judge Fausto "Fuzzy" Fernandez to replace Associate Justice Helen Hoens - a well regarded member of the court and its most consistent conservative voice.
No good deed goes unpunished - Hoens voted "the Governor's way" on the key issues she has faced since his election - school funding and his now-voided executive order abolishing the fair housing agency Council on Affordable Housing.
The seven member high court now has two vacancies - and its future is in jeopardy.  The Democratic legislature has refused to hold hearings and coarsely rejected two previous nominees.  Next in the order of battle is the Chief Justice whose term expires next June.  The Hoens vacancy will leave the court operating with only four confirmed members.  The five required for a quorum cannot be achieved by a temporarily assigned senior appellate judge according to some - including the now dismissed Justice Hoens.
As we have explained, for sixty years - since the adoption of the 1947 Constitution - New Jersey judges had de facto tenure except for misconduct or incompetence.  Only two Supreme Court justices have been denied nomination for tenure after their initial seven year term - John Wallace, and now Hoens - both veteran judges spurned by Christie.  The Governor blames his choice on the Democrats who, it appears, were holding Hoens hostage - pressing for a deal that would include nomination for tenure of Democrat and Chief Justice Stuart Rabner.  Christie has spurned pleas to resolve the court crisis with such a grand bargain.

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