Three judicial nominees advanced over objections from GOP about partisan balance of courts

By: - February 9, 2024 2:09 pm

If they are confirmed on the Senate floor, the nominees would reduce the current number of judicial vacancies from 48 to 45. (Dana DiFilippo | New Jersey Monitor)

The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced three judicial nominees Thursday over objections from Republicans who said they worry about the partisan balance of the state’s courts.

Two of the nominees, Daniel DeSalvo and Keri Ann Eglentowicz, conceded they have previously been registered as Democrats — DeSalvo as recently as last year — leading the panel’s GOP members to vote against advancing them or abstain from voting.

Committee member Sen. Troy Singleton (D-Burlington) supported the three nominees, along with the other Democrats. Singleton said he is confident each of them will do what’s best for New Jersey.

“I am sensitive to the comments, but I do feel emboldened to say what I’m saying right now, frankly, because of the members who sit across from me, having served, having seen them and look at these issues with balance and fairness,” he said about his Republican colleagues. “I feel confident this witness will as well.”

Sen. Jon Bramnick (R-Union) told DeSalvo he had concerns about advancing a judicial nominee who was a lifelong Democrat but changed his party affiliation to unaffiliated to win a judgeship. 

“My concern is that, if I do vote for you, which I would like to do based on your history as a lawyer, based on your personality, and based on your statements, I am afraid I am sending a message to future judiciary committees that I am disrespecting tradition or the statute,” Bramnick said.

DeSalvo called himself a very independent thinker and said he’d make decisions without being influenced by politics. Bramnick voted no on him and on Eglentowicz, who is a Republican but was previously a longtime Democrat. The panel’s other three Republicans abstained on both.

The third nominee, Peter Baker, won unanimous approval from the committee. He is unaffiliated but said he has been registered as a Republican and a Democrat in the past. Baker is the chief attorney for Jersey City, whose mayor, Steve Fulop, is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor next year.

Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) and Sen. Brian Stack (D-Hudson) said they heard the concerns about partisan balance on the courts from their Republican colleagues. Stack said he will “work on this issue going forward in Hudson,” but did not elaborate.

If they are confirmed on the Senate floor, the nominees would reduce the current number of judicial vacancies from 48 to 45. The Senate meets Monday, though the confirmation votes are not scheduled.

The number of judicial vacancies has had court watchers sounding the alarm for nearly two years, though the number has been getting lower. The vacancy number was as high as 75 in May 2022. Court officials have said the courts could operate sustainably with up to 30 vacancies.

Another six judges are expected to retire by the end of March, Judiciary spokeswoman MaryAnn Spoto said.

The committee also unanimously passed a bill to exempt some nursing mothers from jury duty.

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Sophie Nieto-Munoz
Sophie Nieto-Munoz

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, a New Jersey native and former Trenton statehouse reporter for NJ.com, shined a spotlight on the state’s crumbling unemployment system and won several awards for investigative reporting from the New Jersey Press Association. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her report on PetSmart's grooming practices, which was also recognized by the New York Press Club. Sophie speaks Spanish and is proud to connect to the Latinx community through her reporting.

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