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For immediate release: Sept. 8, 2008
For further information contact: Winnie Comfort or Tammy Kendig
609-292-9580

New Jersey Courts Celebrate 60 Years

Gov. Jon S. Corzine will join Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, the associate justices of the Supreme Court and other distinguished guests at a ceremony marking the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the modern Judiciary under the 1947 constitution.

The event will be held today in the Supreme Court Courtroom, nearly 60 years to the day from the first Supreme Court session held under the new constitution. The Supreme Court held its first session under the 1947 constitution on Sept. 15, 1948.

The ceremony also will feature remarks by Arthur T. Vanderbilt II, grandson of Chief Justice Arthur T. Vanderbilt, the first chief justice under the 1947 constitution; state Sen. Leonard Lance, whose father Wesley L. Lance, a former state Senate president was a leading figure in the development in the constitution; and retired Associate Justice James H. Coleman Jr., who was named to the Superior Court in 1973, elevated to the appellate division in 1981 and then nominated to the Supreme Court in 1994. State representatives from both houses will present resolutions marking this important anniversary.

The 1947 constitution consolidated 17 courts into five, abolishing overlapping and conflicting jurisdictions and revising an awkward procedure of multiple appeals. Judges were granted tenure after an initial term, and a retirement age of 70 was established.

The 1947 constitution also gave the Supreme Court sole authority over the administration of the state's courts, admission to the practice of law, and attorney discipline. It laid out the appellate process, the prerequisites for becoming a judge, and the position of administrative director of the courts.

The Superior Court, comprising the appellate, law and chancery divisions also was created, superseding the 9-member Supreme Court, 11-member Court of Chancery and 14 Circuit Court judges.

Under the previous constitution, ratified in 1844, the Court of Errors and Appeals was the highest court in the state. The name of the court was derived from its function of hearing appeals and correcting previous courts' errors in judgment. The justices of that court also presided over the lower courts. Each court had its own rules and procedures, and the jurisdictions were ambiguous and often overlapped, and litigants often were required to have their disputes resolved in more than one court. As New Jersey's population grew and the primarily agrarian society become more industrialized, the legal system no longer met the needs of the citizens and businesses it served.

As a result of the new constitution, the courts eliminated backlogs and dramatically reduced the time to disposition in every court. Annual statistical reports submitted by Willard G. Woelper, the first administrative director of the courts, reveal a successful turnaround for the New Jersey court system, which went from being among the worst state courts systems in the nation, to a national leader in jurisprudence and court management.

Additional information on the history of the modern Judiciary has been added to the Judiciary Web site at njcourtsonline.com.

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