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Appointed: 2001. Born: Trenton, Dec. 18, 1935. Law Degree: University of Pennsylvania Law School, 1961. College: Princeton University, 1958. Previous Experience: Superior Court, Burlington County, 1977-2001 (assignment judge 1990-2001); Moorestown’s Wells, Hillman & Wells. Known For: Judicial experience, which gives him confidence to dissent. Assignment judges, like CEOs, are called on to make decisions around the clock, so after 10 years of running the Burlington vicinage, Harold Wells III would have standing to say appeals judges work in slow motion – if he believed it. Wells says the ivory-tower image of the Appellate Division is undeserved, given the real-world issues at stake. He relishes the give and take of argument, so much so that 20 percent of his decision-making is based on what he hears during oral presentations. That’s a high percentage, given a court whose cases are briefed and briefed and briefed again. “I enjoy argument, and a lot of time make a decision on the basis of argument,” he says. Lawyers note: He says he has changed his mind after hearing attorneys’ responses to questions. Wells says there’s not much he can tell lawyers about how to approach him beyond the traditional advice about being prepared, making sure the briefs support the arguments and being ready to respond to questions that might seem far afield. Wells brings 24 years of experience to his work, as trial judge and assignment judge. “It’s all been helpful,” he says. “You have a clearer understanding of the judicial and practical issues.” His years as assignment judge appear to have given him the confidence to break with his appeals court colleagues. For a court in which unanimity is the rule, two dissents last year stand out. Waxing passionate and colloquial at the same time, Wells wrote that the state was violating its constitution by using bonding authorities to raise capital without public referendum. “The purpose is to evade both the monetary limit and the need for voter approval,” he said bluntly in Lonegan v. New Jersey 341 N.J. Super. 465 (2001), pointing to language requiring public approval of state indebtedness. The majority, Judges James Petrella and Richard Newman, decided that such bond issues, because of the way they are structured, do not violate the Constitution. They added, though, that if it weren’t for precedents, they would have joined Wells. The case was argued in the Supreme Court in January. Andrew Fede, the lawyer challenging the bonding practice, says Wells’ opinion uses material he didn’t recall submitting. That’s a tribute to the judge’s diligence in scouring the record, says Fede, of Hackensack’s Contant, Atkins, Rogers, Fede and Hille. Another pending Supreme Court appeal based on a Wells dissent is State v. Kenneth Banks, A-3114-00. The majority ruled that a criminal defense lawyer’s failure to interview an alibi witness before trial was an error without harm, but Wells suggested that alibi witnesses are so important to a defense that failure to interview them before trial is ineffective assistance of counsel. Wells showed a populist streak last year in three reversals. In Natale v. Kisling, 336 N.J. Super. 198 (2001), Wells reinstated a verbal threshold claim. In Azze v. Hanover Insurance Co., 336 N.J. Super. 630 (2001), he found a malfunctioning waterbed a household appliance covered by a homeowner’s policy. In Ryder v. Ocean County Mall, A-4530-99T5, he allowed a mall hit with a slip-and-fall judgment to seek indemnification from a cleaning service. In The Glen, Section I Condominium Association, v. June, A-933-00T5, Wells issued the first court ruling that a condo association in a gated community could restrict a nonpaying homeowner’s access to common areas. Condos invoking clauses that require defendant members to pay the associations’ legal fees will also like the opinion. The trial court awarded $1,000 of the $7,000 fee requested by The Glen’s lawyer, Michael Fedun of Belle Mead’s Singer & Fedun, saying that was plenty given the damages claimed: $2,800. But Wells wrote that the lawyer should get whatever he could justify by his billings. Wells and Philip Carchman filled in for Chief Justice Deborah Poritz and Justice Peter Verniero last year in In the Matter of Registrant J.G., 169 N.J. 304 (2001). The Court upheld the constitutionality of using Megan’s Law against juveniles, but softened its application. Wells voted for the majority opinion rather than the more pro-prosecution partial dissent by Justices James Coleman Jr. and Jaynee LaVecchia.

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