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For immediate release: October 25, 2006
For further information contact
Winnie Comfort,
Tammy Kendig
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Chief Justice Deborah T. Poritz Retires Departs from a Strong and More Efficient Judiciary

Chief Justice Deborah T. Poritz will retire today, having reached the mandatory retirement age of 70.

Named to the bench by Gov. Christine Todd Whitman in 1996, Chief Justice Poritz is the first woman chief justice in the history of New Jersey. After receiving her law degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1977, she began her career in the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety. She was named chief counsel to Governor Thomas H. Kean in 1989. After working in private practice from 1990 until 1994, Chief Justice Poritz was named attorney general by Governor Whitman and served in that role until her appointment to the Court.

"This departure is bittersweet," the Chief Justice said recently. "I have enjoyed the work, and enjoyed the people, and it is very, very hard to say goodbye.

"But with the sadness comes the sense that things change, and that change is good. Organizations are invigorated by new people and new ideas.

"At the time of my appointment as Chief Justice, the New Jersey Supreme Court enjoyed a fine reputation for tradition, for scholarship and for close attention to the law and to the issues that are of great importance to the citizens of New Jersey, and I believe that reputation stands. I have seen firsthand the excellence and dedication of my colleagues. I will miss them, and I will miss this work."

The Chief Justice also praised her staff. "The New Jersey court system is a unified statewide system whose parts work in concert toward a single vision: a just and fair outcome in every case, no matter where it is filed. But it is the people within this system, with their diverse experiences, their various strengths, and their great enthusiasm that makes us unique as a Judiciary. You have all made a difference in the lives of the people we serve, and for that you should be proud."

Chief Justice Poritz has overseen the unification of the courts, from 21 separate county court systems with multiple courts and overlapping jurisdictions, into a single statewide system comprising 15 vicinages housing the Superior Courts, the Tax Court, the Appellate Division, and the Supreme Court.

As a critical first step toward unification under Chief Justice Poritz, the courts established a system to ensure the equitable distribution of funding and resources around the state. This equalization made it possible for the courts to offer the same high quality service in every county. Further standardization evolved through amendments to the Rules of Court governing policies and procedures in each practice area.

With statewide standards in place, the Judiciary has turned its efforts to reducing the backlog of old cases. The "backlog" consists of cases that remain unresolved past the self-imposed time goals that the Judiciary has established for each type of case. Since the chief justice took office, the Judiciary has reduced the overall backlog by 66 percent, from 67,829 cases on June 30, 1996 to 22,765 cases on June 30, 2006. That figure includes significant reductions in backlog in every case type, from a 22 percent reduction in backlogged criminal cases to a 66 percent reduction in backlogged civil cases, an 84 percent reduction in backlogged divorce cases, and a 97 percent reduction in backlogged domestic violence cases.

The chief justice also has received recognition for increasing the diversity of the Judiciary workforce. With a $500 million budget, the Judiciary employs nearly 10,000 people, including 453 Superior and Tax Court judges and seven Supreme Court justices. Nearly 37 percent of the Judiciary workforce, excluding judges, comprises minority staff members, which is 5 percentage points higher than the percentage of minority workers in the New Jersey job market. In addition, the Chief Justice has increased significantly the percentage of minority and women managers in the Judiciary. She also has increased the number of minority and women judges elevated to leadership positions and to the Appellate Division.

The drug court initiative moved from the pilot stage to a statewide program under the leadership of Chief Justice Poritz. Statewide funding has enable drug courts to operate in every vicinage since 2004, making available the option of rehabilitation rather than incarceration to all eligible non-violent drug offenders, regardless of where their case is filed.

The Judiciary's information technology systems have become a blueprint for cost-effective automation, allowing the Judiciary to process approximately four million transactions each day and to provide critical information to litigants, attorneys, businesses, law enforcement personnel, and state agencies. Under Chief Justice Poritz, these systems have been upgraded and expanded so that the courts may continue to provide high quality service to those who rely on these systems.

 

DEBORAH T. PORITZ SELECTED OPINIONS

Raleigh Avenue Beach Association v. Atlantic Beach Club, Inc. 185 N.J. 40 (2005)

Under public trust doctrine, a private beach club could not limit the public's access to its dry sand beach area. Under the doctrine, the public must be permitted to enjoy recreational activities on the beach. The Court based its ruling on a prior long-standing public access to and use of the beach, a Coastal Area Facility Review Act (CAFRA), N.J.S.A. 13:19-1 to -21, permit issued to a condominium project that required public access to the beach, the lack of publicly owned beaches in the township, and the club's use of the beach as a business enterprise. The club was permitted to charge a reasonable fee to cover expenses for lifeguards, trash removal, and shower facilities.

Gerety v. Atlantic City Hilton Casino Resort 184 N.J. 391, 407-415 (2005)

The Court ruled that the employer's medical leave policy did not violate the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD), N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 to -49 by not providing more than 26 weeks of leave to the mother because the policy applies equally to men and women, regardless of the medical condition that necessitated the leave.

Chief Justice Poritz dissented, stating that the employer's facially neutral leave policy in this case resulted in a disparate impact on women such that gender discrimination must be found. She would hold that an employer must reasonably accommodate the women in its workforce by extending leave for pregnancy when such leave is necessary for health reasons, unless the employer can demonstrate that business necessity prevents that accommodation.

Times of Trenton Publ'g Corp. v. Lafayette Yard Cmty. Dev. Corp. 183 N.J. 519 (2005)

Plaintiff newspaper sued to enjoin defendant nonprofit corporation from violating the New Jersey Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), N.J.S.A. 10:4-6 to -21, and the New Jersey Open Public Records Act (OPRA), N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1 to -13. The trial court dismissed the complaint; the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, reversed. The corporation appealed.

The corporation was established solely to assist a city, a parking authority, and the State of New Jersey to redevelop a certain parcel of land. The newspaper filed suit after its reporter was not allowed to attend the corporation's board meetings or to inspect the minutes of the meetings. The trial court found that the corporation was neither a public body subject to OPMA nor a public agency subject to OPRA. The Appellate Division reversed, finding that the corporation was both a public body and a public agency. The New Jersey Supreme Court agreed. The city had absolute control over the membership of the board, the corporation could only have been created with city approval, and it could issue tax-exempt bonds. The corporation was not private entity because it was controlled in large measure by the city and was supported by the city's taxing power. It performed a "governmental function" under OPMA such that the "rights, duties, obligations, privileges, benefits, or other legal relations of any person" were affected, N.J.S.A. 10:4-8a, and as it was an "instrumentality or agency created by a political subdivision" under N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1.1, it was subject to OPRA.

The judgment of the Appellate Division was affirmed as modified. The matter was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.

State v. Fuller 182 N.J. 174 (2004)

A prosecutor exercised peremptory challenges to excuse two potential jurors, a minister and a Muslim (based on the individual's dress and name). The prosecutor claimed that he took exhibitions of religious devotion as an indication of lenient tendencies toward the defense, which, he argued, was a permissible basis for exclusion. The Court held that the two potential jurors were members of a cognizable group and that the prosecutor had failed to present sufficient evidence of situation-specific bias to justify the peremptory challenges.

Pet. For Auth. To Conduct Referendum on Withdrawal of N. Haledon Sch. Dist. v. Passaic County Manchester Reg'l High School Dist. 181 N.J.161 (2004)

The constitutional imperative to prevent segregation in New Jersey's public schools provided by Article I, paragraph 5 of the New Jersey Constitution applies to the Board of Review in the exercise of it is responsibilities under N.J.S.A. 18A:13-56(b)(4), which requires the Board to deny schools the ability to withdraw from regional districts for any reason the Board deems sufficient. In this case, withdrawal from the Manchester Regional School District by the municipality of North Haledon denied to both students remaining at the Regional District and the students from North Haledon the benefits of the educational opportunity offered by a diverse student body. The Board of Review's decision permitting a referendum on the question was erroneous as a matter of law.

In re Keri 181 N.J. 50 (2003)

Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 3B:12-25, the guardian received guardianship of his mother and her estate. The guardian sought approval of an estate planning strategy where the mother's main asset, which was her home, would be transferred to the guardian and his brother, thus hastening their mother's eligibility for Medicaid benefits. The trial court refused to approve the Medicaid spend-down plan. The guardian received certification to challenge the lower appellate court's affirmance of the denial of the Medicaid spend down plan. The court found the case essentially dealt with whether the guardian could transfer to himself and his brother all or part of the mother's assets in order to hasten her eligibility for Medicaid benefits. The court held that the guardian could do so in order to effectuate a decision their mother would have made if competent. The court found that the guardian's proposed Medicaid spend-down plan met the five Trott criteria and should have been approved. The court also held, contrary to the Public Guardian for the Elderly's position, that there was no conflict of interest in the transfer to the guardian and his brother. In an opinion by the Chief Justice, this Court reversed the judgment of the lower appellate court and remanded the action to the trial court for an order consistent with allowing the guardian to transfer the assets.

Green v. Jersey City Bd. of Educ. 177 N.J. 434 (2003)

The plaintiff was a teacher who had good performance reviews at a new school to which she was assigned. She was asked to receive a check for a colleague, who had supervised a class without proper credentials, and to then turn the check over to that colleague. The teacher refused, reported the incident, and thereafter, she became the subject of poor evaluations, substandard treatment, and other forms of harassment. She went on medical leave due to physical symptoms caused by the situation. Her action was based on alleged violations of CEPA and other common law claims. All claims were dismissed except the CEPA claims, which resulted in a jury verdict in the teacher's favor, including punitive damages and prejudgment interest. On appeal, the Appellate Division affirmed all but the interest award. In an opinion by the Chief Justice, this Court found that the limitations period under N.J.S.A. 34:19-5 began to run from the final act of retaliation because there was a continued course of retaliatory conduct against the teacher. Accordingly, her action was timely filed within the one-year limitations period. Further, the Court found the punitive damage award to be proper against a public entity such as the board.

Sojourner v. New Jersey Department of Human Services 177 N.J. 318 (2003)

The plaintiffs in this case asked the Court to find the Work First New Jersey Act (WFNJ), N.J.S.A. 44:10-61(a), unconstitutional because it "caps" the amount of cash assistance given to families receiving welfare, regardless of any additional children they may have. The Court found that the government cannot be required to provide additional support to families who have chosen to have additional children after entering the State welfare system.

Lonegan v. State 176 N.J. 2 (2003)

Plaintiffs, private citizens and the group to which they belonged, appealed from a decision of Appellate Division that affirmed a summary judgment in favor of defendants, the State and various independent state authorities, declaring that New Jersey statutes authorizing contract bond financing did not violate the Debt Limitation Clause of N.J. Const. art. VIII, 2, cl. 3.

The Clause placed strict limits on the extent to which the State could pledge its full faith and credit in support of general obligation bonds. Over many decades, numerous legislative schemes financed particular projects by authorizing independent state authorities to contract with New Jersey's treasurer to issue bonds with the proviso that any payment was subject to legislative appropriations. The citizens' group attacked all such legislation as an effort to evade the limits of the Clause by issuing bonds that did not legally obligate the State, but that in fact did bind the State, in that it could not afford potential harm to its bond ratings.

In an opinion by the Chief Justice, this Court surveyed case law from the many jurisdictions that had experienced similar challenges and determined to remain aligned with the majority of states that had found contract bonds not violative of debt limitation clauses. This approach to New Jersey's Clause had been taken in the case law for too long to be disturbed--with consequent economic disruption--without action by the legislature. Therefore, if the citizens group wanted change, it would have to address the legislature.

New Jersey Democratic Party v. Samson 175 N.J. 178 (2002)

Thirty-five days before the general election, Senator Robert Torricelli withdrew his name as the Democratic Party's candidate for the United States Senate after having won a place on the ballot in the primary election. Plaintiffs sought to replace the Senator on the ballot with another candidate named by the Party. N.J.S.A. 19:13-20 provides an absolute right, when a candidate withdraws up until 51 days before an election, for the candidate's party to replace him or her, provided it does so 48 days before the election. The Democratic Party was permitted to place another candidate on the ballot after the deadline in order to provide the votes with a choice on Election Day. The Court determined that in the limited time remaining election officials would be able to prepare and mail absentee ballots.

Toll Brothers Inc. v. Township of West Windsor 173 N.J. 502 (2002)

New Jersey's Mount Laurel line of cases obligates New Jersey municipalities to provide for low and moderate income housing in their land use planning. The Court provided a builder's remedy as an enforcement mechanism for its ruling. The Legislature enacted the New Jersey Fair Housing Law, N.J.S.A. 52:27D-301 to -329, which established a means for allocations of a municipality's fair share of low and moderate income housing and protection from the builders' remedy by way of certification from the Fair Housing Council. After resolution of its original Mount Laurel lawsuit, West Windsor Township let its certification lapse without building the required units of affordable housing. The developer sued the town, again seeking a builder's remedy. The Court granted a builder's remedy after finding that the Township of West Windsor had violated the New Jersey Constitution and the Fair Housing Act by preventing a realistic opportunity for development of affordable housing through its ordinances, regulations and site requirements in respect of the development of property.

J.B. v. M.B. 170 N.J. 9 (2001)

A divorced couple disagreed over whether preembryos held in storage from a previous in vitro fertilization attempt could be used by the ex-husband to produce children with another woman. The court ruled that the husband's right to procreate was not lost if he was denied the opportunity to use or donate the preembryos, and that the wife could not be required to become a biological parent, with all its attendant consequences, against her will. The husband could choose to keep the preembryos in storage, or they were to be destroyed.

State v. Thomas 166 N.J. 560, 576-579 (2001)

Holding: The No Early Release Act (NERA) did not apply to defendant's sentencing for sexual assault because "physical force," as defined under the NERA, required an independent act of force, or threat of force, against the victim that was additional to the constituent elements of the crime.

The Chief Justice, dissenting, expressed her view that the majority's holding conflicted with State in the Interest of M.T.S., 129 N.J. 422 (1992), wherein the Court determined that the statutory language "physical force and coercion" does not require physical force beyond that involved in unwanted sexual penetration or sexual contact.

We determined [in MTS] that the statutory language "physical force and coercion" does not require physical force beyond that involved in unwanted sexual penetration or sexual contact. Today we are reverting back to the more traditional view rejected by the 1978 revisions to the Criminal Code and by this Court in M.T.S. Implicit in the traditional view is the notion that when an actor commits sexual assault without using or threatening any extra physical force the assault does not involve violence. I believe, and M.T.S. held, that a sexual assault is a violation of the victim's bodily integrity and is inherently violent. That view lies at the very heart of the reform of our sexual assault laws.

[Thomas, 166 N.J. at 577-578.]

Planned Parenthood of Central New Jersey v. Farmer 165 N.J. 609 (2000)

The Court ruled that New Jersey's Parental Notification for Abortion Act (N.J.S.A. 9:17A-a.a to -1.12) unfairly restricted the fundamental right of a woman to choose whether to have an abortion. Because the state did not offer adequate justification for distinguishing between minors seeking an abortion (when parental notification was required) and minors seeking medical and surgical care relating to their pregnancies (when parental notification was not required), the Court held that the Act violated equal protection principles set forth in Article I, paragraph 1 of the New Jersey Constitution.

In re Proportionality Review Project (ii) 165 N.J. 206 (2000)

The special master submitted a report to the instant court dealing with questions pertaining to systematic proportionality review; that is, whether ethnic, racial, or gender bias existed in the administration of New Jersey's capital sentencing laws. The special master recommended a process for monitoring the possible presence of racial discrimination in the administration of the death penalty. The court accepted the advice of the special master and his consultants that, when properly designed, a series of multiple regressions could be a valuable technique for measuring whether race affected the death-penalty system in New Jersey. Further, the court adopted the special master's recommendation to include the sorting approach when the administrative office of the courts (AOC) and the special master provided the next set of models to the public defender and the attorney general. The court approved the system recommended by the special master, stating that the court could not escape its responsibility to review any effects of race in capital sentencing. Thus, the court directed the AOC and the special master to implement the monitoring system.

The Court directed the administrative office of the courts and the special master to implement the monitoring system, because the court had the responsibility to review any effects of race in capital sentencing.

Abbott v. Burke 163 N.J. 95 (2000)

Plaintiffs sought an order requiring defendants to implement forthwith the preschool education reforms outlined by the Commissioner of Education in prior proceedings, and appointment of a judge to ensure that programs complied with the Comprehensive Educational Improvement and Financing Act of 1996, N.J. Stat. Ann. 18A:7F-1 et seq. Although the Commissioner had not acted in bad faith, neither had he carried out the approved programs. Allowing uncertified teachers in facilities governed by state daycare standards did not satisfy the required provision of fully qualified teachers in facilities governed by state-mandated curriculum content standards. A waiver provision needed to explain the standards for receiving waivers. Regulations allowing 20 students to one teacher did not meet the approved class size of 15 students to one teacher. Contracts with licensed daycare providers had to detail expectations, supports, and accountability. The Office of Administrative Laws had jurisdiction; appointing a judge was not necessary.

Plaintiff's motion in aid of litigant's rights was granted in part and denied in part. The Commissioner of Education had promulgated regulations that did not meet the programs approved in prior proceedings, so changes were ordered. The Office of Administrative Law had jurisdiction, so appointing a judge was unnecessary.

Dale v. Boy Scouts of America 160 N.J. 562 (1999)

Plaintiff had been a member of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) since the age of eight, and had attained the position of assistant scoutmaster. The BSA revoked plaintiffs membership after a newspaper article identified him as the co-president of the Rutgers University Lesbian/Gay Alliance. Because the BSA is a public accommodation under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD), N.J.S.A. 10:5-51, and because BSA revoked plaintiff's membership based on his avowed homosexuality, BSA violated the LAD. Plaintiff's membership did not violate BSA's First Amendment Rights of Association because plaintiff's presence in the organization did not constitute BSA's endorsement of homosexuality. On review by the U.S. Supreme Court, this ruling was overturned.

State in the Interest of J.G., N.S. and J.T. 151 N.J. 565 (1997)

The Supreme Court ruled that a convicted sex offender may be required to submit to HIV testing at the victim's request. Although the defendants argued that the testing would violate the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and the Fourteenth Amendment right to due process, the Court ruled that, given probable cause that the offender may have exposed the victim to HIV, the compelling interest in protecting the health of the victim outweighs the defendant's right to privacy.

N.J. Transit PBA Local 304 v. N.J. Transit Corp. 151 N.J. 531 (1997)

Defendant, New Jersey Transit Corporation, adopted a drug and alcohol testing policy that included random testing of employees responsible for safety-sensitive functions in order to comply with regulations promulgated by the Federal Transit Administration. Plaintiff New Jersey Transit PBA Local 304 challenged the constitutionality of the random testing policy. The Court held that random drug testing of Transit police officers did not violate the state or federal constitutions. As employees of a highly regulated industry responsible for safety-sensitive functions, transit union's members were subject to suspicionless drug testing when the policy was carefully drawn to protect plaintiff's members' privacy rights. In this context, the state has a compelling interest in public safety.

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