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New Jersey’s federal judges voted 10 to 9 last Thursday in favor of a proposal to split New Jersey into two federal judicial districts, clearing the way for the next step in consideration of the plan. At the district’s quarterly meeting in Camden, four judges from Newark — Nicholas Politan, William Walls, Dennis Cavanaugh and Katharine Hayden — joined the six judges who sit in Camden in voting for the proposal. Voting against the plan were all three judges based in Trenton, Anne Thompson, Garrett Brown and Mary Cooper, as well as the rest of the Newark vicinage: Dickinson Debevoise, John Bissell, John Lifland, William Bassler, Alfred Wolin and Faith Hochberg. Of the 22 judges in the district, only three did not vote: Harold Ackerman, Alfred Lechner Jr. and Joseph Greenaway Jr. “Regardless of the decision, the court is united and there are good, collegial feelings all around,” Politan said on Friday, declining to give his reasons for voting in favor of the plan. “There are no hard feeling on this court.” Walls, Hayden and Cavanaugh did not return calls requesting comment. The judges’ approval clears the way for the plan’s review by the 11-member Judicial Council of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and, after that, by the Court Administration and Case Management Committee of the U.S. Judicial Conference. The plan would then be put to the U.S. Judicial Conference, which meets twice a year; the next meeting is in September. Karen Redmond, public information officer for the U.S. Administrative Office of the Courts, says that leaves enough time for the New Jersey proposal to be considered. Democratic Rep. Robert Andrews, the sponsor of legislation to create a new Southern District of New Jersey, H.R. 409, called last week’s vote “exceedingly important” because Congress traditionally gives great weight to affirmative reports on redistricting from the Judicial Council. “The decision of the sitting judges is the most important factor by far in the recommendation of the Judicial Conference,” says the Democratic congressman. “It is not binding by the Judicial Conference or the 3rd Circuit but it will be given great weight, overturned only in unusual circumstances.” The congressman appeared to be unfazed by the narrow victory for his proposal. “It’s obvious that there are some parochial feelings in this matter,” he said, vowing to forge ahead. The first version of his bill, introduced last year, was widely criticized for creating an imbalance of judges in the south. Last month, he introduced a revised version that added five central New Jersey counties to the southern district, for a total of 13. The State Bar Association has endorsed the proposal, but the Association of the Federal Bar of the State of New Jersey has come out against it. The judges called for notice of their vote, along with the majority and minority reports of the Ad Hoc Committee on Splitting the District, to be forwarded to New Jersey’s delegation in Congress. That committee consisted of Stanley Brotman, Stephen Orlofsky, Lifland, Bassler and Brown. But it was the position expressed in the minority report by Brotman and Orlofsky that won a majority of votes among the judiciary as a whole. “Applying the four criteria of caseload, judicial administration, geography and community convenience considered by the Judicial Conference in evaluating the establishment of a new judicial district, splitting the District of New Jersey makes sense,” said the minority report of the court’s Ad Hoc Committee on Splitting the District. “Splitting the district also corrects the historical misallocation of prosecutorial and law enforcement resources, and in that sense, improves judicial administration of the two districts. In terms of the community convenience and geography, splitting the district will eliminate the need for lawyers, parties and witnesses, especially in criminal cases, to travel the length of the State of New Jersey for trial,” the minority report said. “In short, splitting the district visits no disadvantage upon the Northern District and can only benefit the Southern District. It is an idea whose time has come,” the minority report said. While their report was 34 pages long without appendices, the majority report by Brown, Lifland and Bassler opposing the split was only seven pages. Their report, noting proponents’ claims that southern New Jersey is short of law enforcement resources, said, “We do not minimize their concerns, but the solution seems to lie with those who have the power to address them in the traditional way, rather than creating a double layer of officialdom where there is no evidence of need for it.” In addition to more substantive concerns, the anti-split report also forecast a loss of judicial fellowship, deeming “regrettable” the Newark judges’ loss of “opportunities to interact with the Camden and Trenton judges that we now enjoy on a recurring basis.” Andrews estimated last Wednesday that his proposal would cost $15 million to $20 million over five years for hiring an additional U.S. marshal, U.S. Attorney and other staff. He announced that on Wednesday he will meet with Leonidas Ralph Mecham, the director of the U.S. Administrative Office of the Courts, to press his case.

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