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Lawyers will soon have one less excuse for showing up late to court in New Jersey. A new uniform statewide identification card announced recently should ease their entry into courthouses around the state. It would replace the different types of cards in different counties, with their varying designs and expiration dates. The idea originated with the New Jersey State Bar Association in response to complaints from lawyers about getting stuck in long courthouse security lines while judges, clients and adversaries were waiting for them in the courtroom. State Bar President Stuart Hoberman says he has heard of situations where attorneys had to wait 30 to 40 minutes to get into a courthouse to start a trial. When the State Bar’s executive committee raised the subject last year during one of its twice-annual meetings with the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Deborah Poritz suggested discussing the issue with Attorney General Peter Harvey. Harvey, in turn, pulled together representatives from his office, the State Bar, the Administrative Office of the Courts and the county sheriffs to look at the problem. Their work product, a standardized identification card to expedite entry by attorneys to court buildings, was unveiled at the State Bar’s headquarters in New Brunswick. Though the cards would be the same throughout New Jersey, they would be issued by the sheriff’s department and lawyers would apply for them in each county. Each sheriff’s department is slated to get a grant of about $11,000 to purchase the equipment to produce the cards. Hoberman estimates that at least some counties will be ready to start issuing the cards by May. The cost will be about $10, says Hoberman, who is with Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer in Woodbridge. SEPARATE LAWYER LINES? Somewhat similar in appearance to the new driver’s licenses but captioned “NJ Attorney Identification,” the cards will include the lawyer’s photograph, signature, year of admission, date of birth, height, weight, eye color and sex. They will also identify the county and sheriff and include a bar code, an expiration date and an attorney number assigned by the county. The idea behind the uniform card was that it would be easily recognizable by sheriff’s officers and facilitate setting up a separate line or entrance for lawyers in counties that chose to do so. Few counties provide such an accommodation for lawyers at present. Essex County is one that does, with a separate entrance in the rear of the recently restored old courthouse that is solely for court employees and attorneys. Even with a designated line or door, however, lawyers would still have to go through metal detectors. Somerset County Sheriff Frank Provenzano says his county has only a single magnetometer, which precludes arranging for lawyers to enter by their own line or entrance. But the cards would enable his officers to periodically ask any lawyers present to hold out their cards so they can move to the head of the line, he suggests. “We all know attorneys have to get into court and take care of business before the litigants get in,” he adds. According to Paul Loriquet, a spokesman for Harvey, the bar code would allow counties to swipe cards if they want to go that route, while the signatures would allow them the option of comparing signatures. Provenzano, the second vice president of the New Jersey State Sheriffs Association, says there was talk at last week’s press conference of obtaining from the AOC the attorney numbers for all lawyers admitted in New Jersey in order to allow for cross referencing. A uniform lawyer identification card is used in New York but not yet in most other states, says Loriquet. Wanda Akin, who practices in Newark and New York, says the card seems to work well across the river, sparing her from having to wait in long public lines. She would welcome something to ease the process in New Jersey, recalling times she has had to use her cell phone to call judges’ chambers to say she was held up in lines. Akin’s experience in Union has been particularly bad. She points out that because of the small lobby, the line often stretches outside. Farther south, in Cherry Hill, Louis DeVoto has his own bad memories of long lines, which are especially inconvenient for lawyers carrying lots of exhibits and other materials for trial. DeVoto and Akin are skeptical of how much of a difference the card would make. In DeVoto’s view, the card will not help much without separate lines or entrances for lawyers. As it is, he hardly ever shows the card he has now from Camden County because he’s in the same line as everyone else. And with lawyers still required to go through metal detectors, “I don’t see how [the card] will speed the process if you’re going to have to take off all your stuff anyway,” says DeVoto, of Rossetti & DeVoto. Akin remarks, “I would be surprised if all the facilities an attorney has to go through would accept one card.” Her practice includes a lot of criminal work and she does not think the card would work for correctional facilities. According to Loriquet, the cards would be used to gain entry to county jails at the discretion of the county sheriff.

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