There are many reasons why we often point with pride to New Jersey’s judicial system. We were reminded yet again of that pride when recently it was reported that a California judge had been recalled by the citizenry because of dissatisfaction with a sentence he imposed upon a person who had been convicted of sexual assault. Apparently the defendant was facing a maximum term of 14 years in prison, and the prosecution had requested a term of six years. The sentence, however, after a recommendation by the county probation department, was six months in jail.
There was no question that the judge had the authority to impose the sentence of six months. However, it generated an outcry from many members of the public, and the result, pursuant to California law, was a recall election which saw the end of the judge’s judicial career, which began in 2003 and which, according to reports, had not involved prior negative publicity. The judge was quoted as saying that to have imposed a sentence longer than six months “would have a severe impact on” the defendant.
We comment on this case only because it seems obvious that it represents blatant and severe interference with judicial independence. One can only imagine how California judges sitting on criminal cases will react when it comes time to impose sentences, given this event. In New Jersey there is no provision for recall of judges. Absent improper conduct which could precipitate judicial sanction or even impeachment, the only available remedy for what is perceived to be unsatisfactory performance would be the governor’s refusal to renominate a judge after seven years. But absent that, a judge in New Jersey after seven years will serve until mandatory retirement, irrespective of whether, on occasion, there is dissatisfaction with a criminal sentence.