Chief Judge Jose Linares of the District of New Jersey begins his retirement Friday, a departure that widens the state’s already severe judicial shortage.
The loss of Linares brings the number of vacancies on the court’s 17-seat bench to six. Meanwhile, after more than two years in the White House, President Donald Trump has yet to nominate a single district court judge in New Jersey.
The White House did nominate Paul Matey, a Lowenstein Sandler lawyer, to a New Jersey seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, and Matey was confirmed in March without the support of the state’s two Democratic senators, Robert Menendez and Cory Booker. But the White House has not named any nominees for New Jersey’s District Court since taking office in January 2017.
Linares, 65, is retiring after more than 16 years as a federal judge, and he served in the position of chief judge for the past two years. U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson takes over as chief judge on Linares’ departure.
Even before Linares’ retirement, the District of New Jersey was deemed by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts to be in a state of judicial emergency, with weighted filings of 903 cases per judgeship, the second highest in the nation, trailing only the Eastern District of Louisiana.
Two of the six vacant seats on New Jersey’s court have been empty for more than four year—those created when Faith Hochberg retired and William Martini took senior status. One other seat has been vacant for two years after Jerome Simandle assumed senior status. Two vacancies were created in 2018 when Robert Kugler and Peter Sheridan assumed senior status.
Linares said he was proud of the performance of all the judges under difficult working conditions.
“Even with the dire shortage of judges we have, the number of decisions we put out, the number of civil filings and multidistrict litigation cases we have, with a criminal docket that’s pretty high, they’re doing a tremendous job,” Linares said.
He said the inability to fill the court’s vacancies was “the most frustrating thing” happening during his time on the court. He met with Booker and Menendez, and with the White House counsel to discuss New Jersey’s judge shortage, but “every time I think we were making inroads, it falls apart,” Linares said.
Booker is said to support the nomination of Julien Neals, the Bergen County counsel, who was nominated to a federal judgeship by President Barack Obama but whose nomination expired in early 2017. People familiar with the nomination process say that Neal’s advancement would require the senators to strike a deal with the White House on a package of nominees, but no such agreement has emerged so far. The offices of Booker and Menendez did not respond to a request for comment.
Linares said he dealt with the staffing shortage by obtaining funding from the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts for the creation of two additional magistrate judge positions, which will be filled as soon as vetting of the candidates is complete, as well as additional staffing for the office that conducts research for prisoner litigation cases.
Other Democratic-leaning states such as New York and California have not been subject to the same dearth of judicial nominations that New Jersey has seen, said Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law in Virginia who studies federal judicial selection.
“It’s hard to understand how they could go that long. It just puts a lot of pressure on the other judges,” Tobias said.
Under the Trump administration, major corporations in Texas put together a corporate lobbying effort to convince the White House and the home state’s senators of the need to fill vacancies there, in order to provide prompt resolution of suits, said Tobias. The Texas effort was successful, and New Jersey’s business community might find success with a similar strategy, he said.
“I can see the pharmaceutical companies leading the charge. Beyond that, I don’t know what can be done,” he said.