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Edwin Stern will become the Appellate Division’s presiding judge for administration, taking over for Sylvia Pressler, who reaches the mandatory retirement age next month. Stern, 62, a judge since 1981, will take the new position officially on June 1. Pressler will stay on in recall status to allow for a transition period, the Administrative Office of the Courts announced last Thursday. “His wealth of legal, judicial and management experience spans nearly 40 years,” Chief Justice Deborah Poritz said of Stern’s appointment. “The citizens of New Jersey, the members of the bar, and the entire judiciary will benefit from his service in his new role.” Stern will assign judges to the Appellate Division’s eight parts (including a presiding judge for each), monitor each part’s workload statistics and oversee the appellate clerk’s office and court reporting services. He also will preside over one of the parts and carry a full caseload, just as Pressler and her predecessors have done. At the discretion of the chief justice, Stern may hear cases on the Supreme Court when a recusal creates a vacancy. “I’m sure Eddie Stern will be working pretty hard, just as Sylvia Pressler did, just as I did, just as [Robert] Matthews did,” says Herman Michels, who held the job from 1985 to 1997. “They have a very good clerk’s office . . . but you still have the ultimate responsibility to see that everything works,” says Michels, now of counsel to Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione in Newark. “Not that you go in and micromanage it, but you have to know what the procedures are and whether they’re working or not working.” Though the choice of presiding judge for administration is within the chief justice’s discretion, seniority normally carries the day, except for judges with only one or two years left until retirement. Judges Michael King, James Havey and James Petrella were passed over in favor of Stern, who can serve for eight years. A 1966 graduate of Columbia Law School, Stern had helped edit a book on taxation of trusts and estates and originally intended to devote his practice to that subject. After a year as law secretary for Appellate Division Judge Edward Gaulkin, Stern became an associate at Newark’s Hellring, Lindeman & Landau, handling trust and estate tax and also some criminal defense from 1967 to 1970. In 1970, he joined the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office at the invitation of the new prosecutor, Judge Gaulkin’s son, Geoffrey. Stern entered the office as first assistant, a job he held until 1973, when he became acting prosecutor for a year. From 1974 to 1977, he was the AOC’s director of criminal practice, developing computerized systems to monitor delays and record disposition of cases and collection of fines. In 1977, he became a deputy attorney general in the Division of Criminal Justice, where he worked on implementing the new Criminal Justice Act and served as assistant director of the appeals section. He returned to the AOC in 1980-81 as assistant director for legal services. He was appointed to the Superior Court in 1981 by Gov. Brendan Byrne and elevated to the Appellate Division in 1985. Stern has demonstrated a penchant for strict adherence to rules, which has often helped defense lawyers in criminal cases. He chairs the Court’s Criminal Practice Committee. The Appellate Division part over which he presides was designated to hear all appeals arising from the state police racial-profiling furor of the late 1990s. In State v. Ballard, 331 N.J. Super. 529 (2000), he granted discovery to defendants who presented a colorable basis for claims of selective law enforcement by the state police, namely statistics showing blacks and Hispanics were much more likely to be stopped. Stern says he relishes his new twofold role as judge-cum-administrator. He says that from the earliest part of his career, and especially as a prosecutor, he came to appreciate the merits of uniformity and monitoring in the criminal justice system. Last week, he called his predecessor a tough act to follow. “I think this court is in outstanding shape,” he said. “Sylvia Pressler, as presiding judge, has been just magnificent, and she is as respected an administrator as she is with everything else. One of the difficulties is that she leaves enormous shoes that can’t be filled and I hope there are no comparisons.” Pressler, who took the top job when Michels stepped down in 1997, has been on the Appellate Division since 1977. For 15 years, she has chaired the Supreme Court’s Civil Practice Committee. Since 1969, her annually revised commentary in Gann Law Books’ N.J. Court Rules Annotated has been the working bible on civil practice in the state.

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