In Brief

N.J. courts to fully re-open amid stunning backlogs, broad vacancies

By: - August 2, 2021 7:00 am

The Essex County Historic Courthouse in Newark (Photo by New Jersey Monitor)

New Jersey’s courthouses will fully re-open to the public today for the first time since the start of the pandemic, acting Administrative Director of the New Jersey Courts Judge Glenn Grant announced Friday.

State courts resumed holding in-person trials and some other on-location services in mid-June, but capacity was limited to 50%. Entry to courthouses required an appointment or scheduled court date, but those restrictions will be lifted starting today.

The news comes as New Jersey’s trial courts face a massive backlog of cases that has grown drastically since the state identified its first case of COVID-19 in March 2020.

As of May, the judiciary reported a backlog of 92,151 trial court cases, up from the 23,917 backlogged cases reported last March.

The bulk of those cases, 54,513, belong to the Special Civil part, which handles small claims, civil cases involving damages of no more than $15,000 and landlord-tenant disputes. Just 724 Special Civil cases were backburnered last March.

Many of those cases are landlord-tenant cases. New Jersey enacted a moratorium on evictions early into the pandemic, and that prohibition will remain in effect until Aug. 31 or the end of the year, depending on whether a family’s household income falls below 80% of their county’s median income.

On top of the case backlog, New Jersey Courts face a shortage of judges. Despite a spree of confirmations in June, 51 spots on the Superior Court bench remain empty. The figure is down from highs reached last year but remains among the broadest court vacancies ever to face the state.

Residents have been able to make child support payments and file applications for temporary restraining orders in person since last summer, and many cases were handled virtually while courthouses were closed.

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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.