As greeting card verses remind us, the new year brings the opportunity to turn over a new leaf. In that spirit, here are some high-profile litigation disputes in New Jersey that could reach a resolution in 2019.
Plaintiffs and State Seeking Early Resolution in School Desegregation Suit
The new year could provide a glimpse into the resolution of a suit calling for the state to remedy racial segregation in the state’s nearly 600 school districts. Some observers have predicted the administration of Gov. Phil Murphy will act to settle the suit, which was filed in May 2018 by a coalition of groups, including the Latino Action Network, the NAACP New Jersey State Conference and the Urban League of Essex County.
The suit seeks to replace the current practice of assigning students to schools based on attendance boundaries with a new methodology for assigning students to schools that would end racial segregation. But there’s been no indication as to how such a goal could be met.
On Aug. 10, Mercer County Assignment Judge Mary Jacobson denied the state’s motion to turn the case into an administrative proceeding before the state education commissioner, and on Sept. 28 she denied a motion by a group representing charter schools to intervene.
On Oct. 26, Jacobson granted a continuance in the case, Latino Action Network v. State of New Jersey, putting discovery on hold while the parties pursue a settlement. She ordered the parties to provide a status report to the court on Jan. 7.
The state has yet to file an answer in the case, but attorneys for both sides have said in court filings that they are amenable to an early settlement.
Race Discrimination Suit by Deputy Attorneys General Heads for Mediation
A simmering dispute over diversity at the Office of the Attorney General could boil over after remaining on the back burner for more than a year. The agency was sued in 2017 by three African-American deputy attorneys general who say the agency engages in disparate treatment of government lawyers based on race. The plaintiffs maintain that nonwhites among the agency’s 700 attorneys are paid less and are denied promotions, and the creation of a diversity counsel was a hollow gesture.
The case remains in discovery before former Superior Court Judge Mark Epstein. The first mediation was Dec. 20. Meanwhile, the plaintiffs have asked Essex County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Beacham to extend the discovery deadline 90 days from its current Jan. 13 deadline.
It remains to be seen what impact the confirmation earlier this year of Gurbir Grewal, the state’s first Sikh-American attorney general, will have on diversity at the Department of Law and Public Safety. But Grewal announced a far-reaching diversity initiative in June, calling for increased efforts to promote diversity in the ranks of the state police, including efforts to develop a pipeline of candidates from diverse backgrounds and requiring that each of the department’s 13 divisions develop its own “diversity and inclusion plan” that identifies “specific goals, and methods to achieve them.”
Port Authority Expected to Seek Dismissal of Suit Over Bridgegate Traffic Delays
A defining moment could be coming for a high-profile case that is about to celebrate its fifth birthday. In the suit seeking civil damages for the traffic jams of the Bridgegate lane closure scandal, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is expected to seek a stay of expert discovery while it moves for summary judgment.
The Port Authority says the recent U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruling partly affirming the conviction of William Baroni Jr., the former deputy director of the Port Authority, for his role in the politically motivated 2013 lane closures serves to absolve the bistate agency of civil liability. The Port Authority claims the Third Circuit affirmed a finding by U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton that Baroni lacked authority to order the closure of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge.
At issue in the case, first filed in January 2014, is whether the Port Authority is liable for the decision of Baroni to violate citizens’ constitutional rights. The Port Authority contends it is not liable for delays that resulted from the lane closures because Baroni was acting outside his authority when he carried out the scheme.
Dismissal of the Port Authority from the case could be bad news for the putative class, because it’s unclear whether the other remaining defendants—Baroni, fellow Bridgegate conspirators Bridget Kelly and David Wildstein, and Gov. Chris Christie’s re-election campaign—have any significant assets to collect on if the plaintiffs and the class prevail.