In Brief

Three judges named temporarily to N.J. Supreme Court, as judicial vacancies persist

By: - August 15, 2022 11:49 am

Judges Douglas Fasciale, Jack Sabatino, and Clarkson S. Fisher Jr. were appointed to the New Jersey Supreme Court effective Sept. 1, 2022, to fill three vacancies. (Courtesy of New Jersey Courts)

Three state judges will temporarily serve on the New Jersey Supreme Court this fall under an order Chief Justice Stuart Rabner issued Monday.

Superior Court Judges Clarkson S. Fisher Jr., Jack M. Sabatino, and Douglas M. Fasciale — senior presiding judges in the state’s appellate division — will begin serving on the state’s highest bench on Sept. 1.

The Supreme Court hasn’t had a full bench of confirmed justices since Dec. 31, when Justice Jaynee LaVecchia retired. Justices Faustino J. Fernandez-Vina and Barry Albin left the court this year when they hit the mandatory retirement age of 70, and they have not been replaced.

After LaVecchia in March 2021 announced she would retire, Gov. Phil Murphy picked North Jersey attorney Rachel Wainer Apter to replace her. But that nomination has languished, blocked by Sen. Holly Schepisi’s invocation of senatorial courtesy (Wainer Apter lives in Schepisi’s district).

With that replacement stalled, Rabner assigned another state judge, Jose L. Fuentes, to temporarily replace LaVecchia. But Fuentes will hit his mandatory retirement age on Sept. 1, and if he is not replaced, the court would be left without a quorum at the start of its 2022-23 term.

With the new appointments, the partisan split of the court will be 4-3. Rabner, Justice Fabiana Pierre-Louis, Fisher, and Sabatino are Democrats, and Solomon, Patterson, and Fasciale are Republicans.

The judicial vacancy crisis has afflicted courthouses across the state, backlogging cases and prompting some counties to stop hearing certain kinds of cases altogether. Rabner in May warned the vacancies — which then stood at 75 — had hit a historic high.

Lawmakers last week confirmed four state judges during a rare summer return to Trenton, bringing the total number of remaining vacancies down to about 60. Rabner has said the court could operate sustainably with as many as 30 vacancies.

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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.