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In the view of lawyers across the state, newer judges are distinguishing themselves more – as rising stars and as clunkers – than they have in the past. That is one conclusion that can be drawn from the results of the Law Journal‘s fourth judicial survey of New Jersey’s trial court bench, and the first since January 1999. More new judges make up the top and bottom 25 slots of this year’s survey of 366 trial judges than new judges did six years ago. In many other respects, though, practitioners feel the same way they did previously about the judges before whom they appear. Among the conclusions that resonate with the 1999 findings: • Presiding and assignment judges are rated very high. • Judges continue to get high marks for their lack of racial, ethnic or gender bias, as well as their lack of bias toward lawyers and their clients. • Women and minority judges receive lower grades than their white male colleagues. • Family Part judges fare disproportionately worse than others; • The judges’ ability to handle complex matters and foster settlements are targets of the strongest criticism. • Judges who score high for demeanor tend to score high across the board, suggesting that niceness can go along way, even to the point of overlooking some weaknesses. On the other hand, the survey also indicates that attorneys showed plenty of discernment and produced many exceptions. For example, while seven of the 10 worst-performing judges, as measured by their overall competency scores, went on the bench after the 1999 survey, three newcomers cracked the top 10. And while women judges and those in the Family Part fared disproportionately worse, Marie Lihotz, Burlington County’s presiding judge for family, came in seventh statewide. She is the highest-ranking female judge. Another point to keep in mind: Lawyers in some vicinages traditionally give out tougher, or more liberal, grades to their local bench. The three vicinages with the highest average scores in the 2005 survey, Burlington, Atlantic-Cape May and Cumberland-Gloucester-Salem, also were the top three in 1999, with Burlington and Cumberland-Gloucester-Salem switching spots. At the low end, the Essex bench comes in last for the third survey in a row, going back to 1993. Placing in the bottom four in the current survey are Middlesex, Monmouth, Hudson and Essex, finishing in the same four positions as in 1999. But in the middle are some dramatic swings. Camden climbed five spots in the vicinage race, from ninth to fourth place. And Morris-Sussex jumped four places, to seventh. The largest downward swing was in Passaic, where the collective bench dropped from ninth in 1999 to 11th in average overall score. Union dropped four spots, to ninth, while Bergen dipped from seventh to 10th. Bergen was as high as No. 2 in the 1993 survey. How stingy is the Monmouth bar in assessing its bench, which was also 12th in 1993? The county’s highest-ranking jurist is the civil presiding judge, William Gilroy, who places 30th statewide. Compare that with Essex, which, while placing last as a vicinage, nevertheless can boast of having the second-highest-scoring judge statewide in Eugene Codey, the county’s civil presiding judge. Overall, lawyers in southern and rural vicinages dole out higher marks than do lawyers in northern, central and urban vicinages. Serpentelli Is Supreme Codey, who ranked 11th six years ago, is second only to the statewide leader, Eugene Serpentelli, Ocean County’s assignment judge now in his 27th year on the bench. Serpentelli placed second in 1999 to Atlantic County’s L. Anthony Gibson, now retired. Gibson and Serpentelli also ran first and second in the 1993 survey. The Supreme Court has long turned to Serpentelli for difficult assignments. In particular, he is the longtime chairman of the Court’s family practice committee and the state domestic violence working group, which one family practitioner calls “a thankless job.” Serpentelli led in no fewer than six of the 12 categories in which the judges were rated. In fact, he led in the first six questions, dealing primarily with judicial brainpower, such as knowing the law, procedure, and records and documents in the case, as well as fairly weighing the evidence, handling complex matters and fostering settlements. And he’s consistent. He’s been first in Ocean in all four surveys, dating back to 1989. Placing third statewide is Union County Assignment Judge Walter Barisonek, who leaps from 89th place in the last survey. Barisonek, a 20-year veteran, finished third statewide in 1989 and sixth in 1993, only to drop to 89th in 1999. Between 1993 and 1999, he became presiding criminal judge. The top newcomer to the top 10 list is Raymond Reddin, who finished in a tie for fourth among the judges in the survey. Reddin, a former West Paterson solo, was named to the bench by Gov. James McGreevey in June 2003. He led all Passaic judges in a county where practitioners were dishing out much lower grades than in the prior survey. Reddin tied with Hudson’s presiding civil judge, Carmen Messano, who moved up from 34th in 1999. And four other new judges – Maureen Mantineo, Marc Baldwin, Dennis Carey and Kyran Connor – are tied for ninth place. Mantineo was appointed to the Hudson bench by McGreevey in mid-2002, where she sat in family and then, last July, was named presiding family judge. Baldwin went on the bench in Burlington in 2000, along with Connor, who sits in Cape May. Carey was put on the Essex court in 2003. Reddin also enjoys the distinction of being the highest-rated criminal judge. Burlington’s Lihotz, of course, is the top family judge, while Codey is the king of the civil bench. The best judge sitting general equity is George Seltzer, the presiding judge for the part in Atlantic and Cape May. Seltzer, who finished fourth statewide six years ago, places fifth this time. Pereksta at Pit Bottom With the retirement of Mac Hunter of Hudson, voted the worst judge in 1999 and the fourth-worst in 1993, the new goat in the survey is Darlene Pereksta, who sits in Ocean’s Family Part. In finishing last statewide, Pereksta received the lowest score in seven of the 12 categories, including the first six questions dealing with the toughest aspects of judging. Her score of 3.67 out of a possible 10 for her ability to handle complex matters is the lowest of all scores in any category, and not even close to the next lowest in that category. It is the only score under four surveywide. Making matters worse, at least in the eyes of lawyers who cast their ballots in the county, is that she finished next to last in punctuality and in promptness in holding court. Pereksta was in private practice for a decade until 1995, when she joined the administration of Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, first as an assistant counsel, then in 1998 as a liaison to the state Senate, and in 1999 as Whitman’s appointments counsel. She also served briefly as a deputy chief of staff under Acting Gov. Donald DiFrancisco, though Whitman nominated her. The runner-up on the 10 worst judges list is Roberto Alcazar, named by Whitman in late 1998 after serving six years as a worker’s compensation judge. Alcazar, a former deputy attorney general who headed the Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey in the early 1990s, was pushed hard by the Hispanic bar for a judgeship at that time. But according to a memo from the governor’s counsel’s office at the time, Gov. Jim Florio’s front office resisted the pressure and gave him the worker’s compensation post instead. The third-worst judge, Frances Lawrence Antonin, placed last statewide in 1993, and third from last six years ago. Antonin, who is black, was voted as the worst judge statewide in showing racial or ethnic bias. She is in Hudson’s Civil Part. Whitman named another lawyer working in her administration to the bench who turned out to make the bottom 10. She is Lorraine Pullen, who since joining the Middlesex bench in 1999, has sat in family, criminal and, since last July, civil. Pullen, who finished 358th, was an assistant public defender from 1987 to 1996, when Whitman named her to the state’s Violent Crimes Compensation Commission. Also of note in the bottom 10 is the appearance of a presiding judge, Barbara Zucker-Zarett of the Family Part, whose scores from the Morris-Sussex bar place her fifth from last. Zucker-Zarett may prove the postulation that demeanor can influence all other scores. She is last in showing courtesy and respect for litigants and lawyers. But her poor showing shouldn’t surprise, as she was 313th out of 348 in the 1999 survey. Whitman Lowers the Bar Overall, the crop of judges who have come aboard since the 1999 survey did not fare as well as their more senior colleagues. (Included among the new judges are a few not included in the last survey because, though they were sitting, they did not receive enough votes to be included.) Seven of the bottom 10 judges are new to the survey, and all are Whitman appointees that came late in her tenure. A look at the bottom 25 in overall competency shows that 14, or 56 percent, are new. Whitman named 10 of the 14, and DiFrancesco and McGreevey each named two. To be fair, Whitman was in office for seven years compared with three for McGreevey and one for DiFrancesco. Contrast these numbers with the 1999 survey, when only one of the bottom 10 judges was new since the 1993 survey. Moreover, of the bottom 25 in 1999, only five, or 20 percent, were new. But if the latest appointments produced more clunkers, they also produced more rising stars than those rated in the previous survey. In 1999, only five of the top 25 were new since the 1993 survey, while the latest survey counts 10 newcomers among its top 25. Still, that represents 40 percent of the top 25, compared with newcomers making up 56 percent of the bottom of the list. Women, Minorities Hammered As in the 1993 and 1999 surveys, women and minority judges continue to receive disproportionately lower scores than do white males. Some of this may stem from bias among respondents, yet the numbers are across every category. While the 92 women trial and tax court judges make up 25 percent of the bench, they represent only 16 percent of the top 25, and 18 percent of the top 50. Two women, Lihotz and Mantineo, are in the top 10. Conversely, women judges represent 44 percent of the bottom 25, and 38 percent of the bottom 50. Six of the bottom 10 are women. The number of women judges has increased by more than 53 percent since mid-1996. As for the 47 black, Hispanic and Asian judges, while they make up 12.8 percent of the trial bench, they represent 32 percent of the bottom 25 and 28 percent of the bottom 50. Combined, woman and minorities account for 56 percent of the bottom 25 and half of the bottom 50. And, as with the case in 1999, minority and women lawyers fare worse in the categories dealing with bias. Nine women judges made the bottom 25 in showing gender bias, including three of the bottom 10 in that category. As for the question on racial or ethnic bias, there were seven, or 25 percent, of black or Hispanic judges in the bottom 25, with black or Hispanic judges making up 26 percent of the bottom 50. The survey also seems to show that Chief Justice Deborah Poritz and her administrative directors have placed good people in leadership positions. Nine of the top 10 judges are presiding or assignment judges, along with 14 of the top 20. Only two leadership judges are in the bottom 25, and only four presiding or assignment judges are among the bottom 50. They are all women.

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