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Peremptorily Challenged� As a U.S. prosecutor, New Jersey Chief Justice Stuart Rabnergot used to a voir dire system with a total of 16 peremptory challenges in criminal trials � six to prosecutors, 10 to defense lawyers. So when he heard state judges gripe that New Jersey has twice as many, he said the question was worth looking into. “New Jersey stands out as the leader in the nation for its number of peremptories,” Rabner told reporters at a roundtable session Thursday. “But if we’re able to pick juries fairly enough in the federal system � maybe it can be done with fewer in the state system.” Maybe, but trial lawyers are pretty attached to peremptories, and prior efforts to trim them down have gone awry. The Supreme Court Special Committee on Peremptory Challenges and Jury Voir Dire last year tabled a plan to cut peremptories from 32 to 14 in criminal cases and from six to four per party in civil cases. The panel said it would revisit the issue in a year, along with a plan to allow judges to cut peremptories in multiparty cases. Rabner is prepared for resistance. “Change is hard. I recognize people will feel strongly. “ N.J. Fee Arbitration Rates High� New Jersey’s lawyer-run fee arbitrations are getting a high grade from an unlikely source: HALT-An Organization of Americans for Legal Reform, a Washington, D.C., group that blames lawyers for much of the U.S. justice system’s ills. HALT ranks New Jersey’s fee-arbitration system third � after Washington D.C., and Maine � among the 51 jurisdictions, in such categories as ease of filing, publicity to the public, access to nonlawyer arbitrators and enforcement of awards. The report is at www.halt.org . New Jersey got a boost as one of just nine states that require lawyers to submit to binding arbitration when disgruntled clients want it. New Jersey lawyers who don’t like that should consider moving to states without mandatory arbitration: Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Tennessee. The report by the organization gave a middling grade to one feature of New Jersey’s system: clients can’t get nonlawyer arbitrators unless the amount in dispute is more than $3,000. David Johnson, director of the Office of Attorney Ethics, says arbitrations for the lesser amounts usually consist of one person. To include a nonlawyer would require three-person panels in all cases, a burden on a system that depends on volunteers, he says. Shock and Awe� Essex County jurors enter the Newark courts complex through a basement door � not exactly the type of gateway that imbues one with a sense of judiciary majesty. That may change. On Wednesday, Essex County officials unveiled an architectural design for an arched glass entrance on 13th Avenue opposite the jury parking lot. The entrance would lead to a two-story lobby with state-of-the-art security stations. County administrator Joyce Harley says the project, priced at $4.8 million, is intended to create a “beautiful place where jurors can come and serve their civic duty.” The present site of the planned portal is a loading dock. “This area has been neglected for 30 years and it needed to be renovated,” says Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. “It’s part of big plan to renovate this complex and create a safe, friendly place for people who work and visit.” Other renovations, priced at $17.7 million, include a repaved juror parking lot, a new parking garage, a walking promenade and a park at the location of the former jail and employee parking garage. For Want of a Warm Body� A putative class action accusing the Newark Housing Authority of improperly seeking amounts beyond unpaid rent in summary evictions could not survive the death of its sole named plaintiff. Mygyette Washington died in August 2006 without having provided sworn testimony. No representative of her estate was appointed or substituted as plaintiff. Her lawyer, William Pinilis, tried to locate her next of kin � two grandchildren � but the Newark school system refused to comply with his subpoena. Finally, Essex County Superior Court Judge Paul Vichnessdismissed the case on Sept. 20. Pinilis, of Morristown’s PinilisHalpern, wanted to recover fees as a prevailing party under the state Consumer Fraud Act, since a ruling in the case led to revision of a form that facilitated suing for nonrent amounts. “We thought we were entitled to be compensated for having changed the practice,” he says. But Housing Authority lawyer Bruce Gudin, of Newark’s Levy Ehrlich & Petriello, says no fees were recoverable because Washington suffered no ascertainable loss and thus lacked standing. Still, Pinilis sees a silver lining. “At the end of the day, we did a good thing for some poor people, so if it amounts to some pro bono work, we can live with that,” he says. �By Lisa Brennan, Henry Gottlieb, Maria Vogel-Short and Mary Pat Gallagher

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