Information Technology Office Municipal
The Municipal Court Project Team was created to support the case life cycle processing of the traffic and criminal components of the 538 Municipal Courts throughout New Jersey. On April 20, 1988, the Chief Justice and the Attorney General announced an action plan for an offender-financed traffic system serving New Jersey's Municipal Courts and Motor Vehicle Services
The Automated Traffic System (ATS) system is designed to speed up the direct exchange of information between MVS and the municipal courts. Prior to ATS, courts submitted paper reports (MF-1) to MVS on each moving disposition. These paper reports were then manually entered by MVS into their database. Under ATS, this information is
ACS was developed to automate the processing of all criminal and non-traffic matters initiated in the Municipal Court system and has been designed to complement the Automated Traffic System. Together, both systems facilitate automated court operations within the Municipal Courts.
The Municipal Court System can trace its origin to the "justice courts" created by Lord Cornbury, the first Royal Governor of the colony that became the State of New Jersey. The justice courts, based on English common law and principles of equity, had civil jurisdiction over small debts (similar to the small claims now heard in the Special Civil Part of Superior Court) and were included in New Jersey's court system by the first
Police courts joined the justice courts as local courts to handle minor criminal matters following the Constitution of 1844, which also set up a variety of county trial courts and state appellate that were to endure for 100 years. Local court judges were appointed by local governing bodies, and their operations varied from community to community. In general, these local judges were not held in high esteem by the public or members of the legal
By the mid-1940s, concern about the quality of the court system and the myriad of courts that had been created led to the inclusion in the Constitution of 1947 of New Jersey's existing court structure, which includes municipal courts. The reforms of 1947 placed administrative responsibility for all court rules and procedures, including municipal courts, with the Chief Justice and the Supreme Court, and authorized the creation of an
Although the creation of the Municipal Courts and subsequent rules setting minimum qualifications for judges and uniform procedures had improved the overall standing of the local courts and had received national acclaim, efforts at further improvement were undertaken periodically and unsuccessfully over the next three decades. A system of regional courts with judges appointed by the Governor was formally advocated by Chief Justice Joseph Weintraub in 1958, and again in 1969 by Administrative Director of the Courts Edward McConnell. In 1971, a consultant report urged a similar restructuring. These and other recommendations for change never gained
During these decades, the rest of the court system, created in 1947, became a national model for court reform and administrative strength. Because of the uncertainty created by frequent public debate about regionalization or abolishment of the courts, those improvements in the municipal courts that were undertaken by the Administrative Office of the Courts during these decades were not as far reaching or ambitious as they might otherwise have been. Non-lawyer judges were phased out by attrition, and state training programs were developed for judges and court personnel. Assignment Judges in each vicinage were given responsibility for annual visits to each municipal court; annual audits were required; and as of 1975 sound recording was required, providing the first record of municipal proceedings, and special management studies were conducted in large urban courts. The Supreme Court created the Committee on Municipal Courts to review and make recommendations on the operation of the courts, and to provide vicinage level training for municipal court judges. Budget preparation assistance was provided for judges and clerks, and comprehensive bench manuals and procedures manuals were
While specific municipal court problems were being addressed by these improvements, the courts were being buried in an avalanche of cases and added administrative responsibilities as shown in the table on the next page. For example, in court year 1983-84, there were 4.2 million cases filed in municipal court, as compared to 559,497 in 1949-50. At the same time the courts acquired the additional responsibilities of collecting installment payments of fines and providing data to other agencies, such as the Division of Motor Vehicles, and changes in the law drastically affected the nature of the workload. This increased workload generally did not prompt substantial funding increases, thereby exacerbating the situation by creating backlog conditions in
Chief Justice Robert N. Wilentz, convinced that a thorough review of municipal court operations was necessary if the municipal court system was to continue to function, created the Task Force on the Improvement of Municipal Courts in October, 1983. In announcing the creation of the Task
More citizens have contact with the municipal courts than any other part of the judicial system, and it is not without its critics. There has been a staggering increase in the municipal caseload over the years, including cases involving new laws placed under municipal jurisdiction. The system cannot keep up with the burden. Despite the best efforts of municipal judges and court personnel, backlog problems are compounded by a lack of modern technology and processing and by a lack of coordination between the individual courts. Creation of the Task Force represents a commitment to analyze these and other problems, and find solutions that will ensure maximum efficiency and a
The Task Force, chaired by Associate Justice Robert L. Clifford, included a broad cross-section of representatives, including judges, lawyers, state and local elected officials, court administrators, and private citizens. A survey was conducted among the participants at the Municipal Court Judges' Conference in October 1983 to identify those areas of municipal court operations in need of revision and reform. As a result, five committees within
- 1) administration
- 2) budget, personnel and physical plant
- 3) trial practice and procedure
- 4) computerization and case processing techniques
- 5)issues involving the accountability of the courts to the public, including performance/evaluation standards and other topics of public concern.
Representatives of the AOC, working in conjunction with members of the Bench, developed a tentative mandate for each committee, including those issues in need of review and possible reform. Ultimately, the Task Force produced over 50 position papers examining numerous aspects of municipal court operations. The papers were written by the committees and
Local Advisory Committees (LAC) were established in each vicinage representing all sectors of the criminal justice system, including municipal court personnel, the bench, the bar, and private citizens. Comments from the LACs were relayed directly to each committee as well as to the entire Task Force so that comments and criticisms could be taken into consideration when reviewing and rewriting the papers. Thus, proposals were subjected to a wide range of scrutiny and review, thereby ensuring that all aspects of each issue were considered.
The following mandate was made for the computerization of the traffic case processing:
"*Computerization - present a basis on which a comprehensive statewide computerized municipal court system can be justified, established, and implemented for the purpose of unifying the flow of information among municipal courts and various agencies with which they must interact." (1985 Judicial Conference Supreme Court Task Force on the Improvements of Municipal Courts).