As our regular readers know, the past year has been a newsworthy and fairly tumultuous one for the New Jersey Supreme Court, having nothing to do with the Court’s opinions and rulings. The controversies began in May 2010 when Governor Christie decided not to re-appoint Justice John Wallace to the Court after his initial seven-year term expired. In response, the State Senate refused to hold hearings on Anne Patterson, the Governor’s nominee to replace Justice Wallace. Because of the resulting open seat, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner elevated Judge Edwin Stern of the Appellate Division to the Supreme Court.
Then, in January 2011, Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto announced that he would not seek re-nomination to the Supreme Court when his initial seven-year term expired in September 2011. After he made his announcement there was speculation that a deal would be cut between the Governor and the Senate to have Ms. Patterson nominated for Justice Rivera-Soto’s seat. Although it took some time for that to happen, that is eventually what occurred as Governor Christie and Senate President Stephen Sweeney reached an agreement whereby the Governor withdrew Ms. Patterson’s nomination for Justice Wallace’s seat and re-submitted her nomination for Justice Rivera-Soto’s spot. In addition, Justice Wallace’s seat will remain open (that is, not filled by a permanent replacement) until March 2012, which is when Justice Wallace would have reached the mandatory retirement age of 70.
Ms. Patterson appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 31, 2011, and the committee approved her nomination the same day. The next step for Ms. Patterson to reach the Supreme Court is a vote by the full Senate, which has not been scheduled as of yet.
All of that serves as the background to what occurred on June 10, 2011, which was a very busy day for Chief Justice Rabner. On that day, Judge Stern reached the mandatory retirement age of 70. Even though he was serving on the Supreme Court, Judge Stern was still the Presiding Judge for Administration of the Appellate Division. Thus, upon Judge Stern’s retirement Chief Justice Rabner assigned Judge Dorothea O’C. Wefing to become the Presiding Judge for Administration of the Appellate Division. (It should be noted that Judge Wefing had been the Acting Presiding Judge for Administration of the Appellate Division because Judge Stern was serving in the Supreme Court.) However, Chief Justice Rabner was not done assigning new roles to Judge Wefing. Because Judge Stern’s retirement left a vacant seat on the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Rabner assigned Judge Wefing temporarily to the Supreme Court.
There was still more for Chief Justice Rabner to do on June 10. Because Judge Wefing was elevated to the Supreme Court, that left the position of Presiding Judge for Administration of the Appellate Division vacant. Therefore, Chief Justice Rabner designated Judge Ariel A. Rodriguez to serve as the Acting Presiding Judge for Administration of the Appellate Division. In a separate order, Chief Justice Rabner designated Judge Carmen Messano to serve as the Deputy Presiding Judge for Administration of the Appellate Division.
Got all that? It might be easier to have a bit of a scorecard: as of June 10, the members of the Supreme Court are: Chief Justice Rabner, Justice Virginia Long, Justice Jaynee LaVecchia, Justice Barry Albin, Justice Rivera-Soto, and Judge Wefing. It is expected that Ms. Patterson will be confirmed soon by the Senate to fill Justice Rivera-Soto’s seat when his term expires later this year. As for Justice Wallace’s seat, which Judge Stern first filled and Judge Wefing is now occupying, that will remain without a permanent replacement until March 2012. And at the Appellate Division level, Judge Rodriguez is the new Acting Presiding Judge for Administration and Judge Messano is the Deputy Presiding Judge for Administration.