Gov. Chris Christie on Monday announced the nominations of two candidates for the state Supreme Court: Monmouth County judge David Bauman and Board of Public Utilities president Robert Hanna.
“These two nominees represent a political compromise in an effort to get the court fully staffed,” said Christie, adding that he had been in frequent contact with Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester.
He said he hoped they would receive quick confirmation hearings by the Senate Judiciary Committee and an up or down vote by the full Senate.
“These are two extremely well-qualified nominees,” he said. “I don’t know what more [Senate Democrats] could ask for at this point.”
The new appointments would shift the political balance of the court. Bauman, a Republican, and Hanna, an independent, would fill the seats vacated by Democrats John Wallace Jr., who was denied tenure by Christie in 2010, and Virginia Long, who reached mandatory retirement age last March.
The court currently is comprised of Democrats Stuart Rabner and Barry Albin, Republicans Anne Patterson and Helen Hoens and one independent, Jaynee LaVecchia, whom Democrats consider to be GOP-leaning.
The appointment of Bauman would also give the court its first Asian-American justice. He was born in 1956 in Japan to a Japanese mother and a U.S. Navy serviceman of German and Irish descent, and moved to the U.S. when he was 3 years old.
Bauman is a 1981 graduate of Columbia University and a 1986 graduate of Boston College Law School.
Admitted to the bar in 1987, Bauman was with Bressler Amery & Ross, now in Florham Park, from 1991 to 2008, becoming a partner in 1998. He concentrated in complex civil litigation and criminal matters.
From 1988 until 2004, he was in the U.S. Marine Corps, attaining the rank of major. He was on active duty from 1988 until 2001, and was a defense counsel, prosecutor and special counsel to the Naval Investigative Service. He was in the reserves until 2004 and was Staff Judge Advocate to the 6th Motor Transport Battalion, based in Red Bank.
Gov. Jon Corzine nominated Bauman to the Superior Court bench in 2008, and he was confirmed in July of that year. Chief Justice Stuart Rabner named him presiding judge of Monmouth County’s Civil Part in September 2009.
In the Law Journal’s latest Superior Court Judicial Survey, lawyers ranked Bauman 16th out of the 24 judges in the Monmouth vicinage, with an overall competency score of 7.96 out of 10, against a vicinage average of 8. His best score, 9.27, was for lack of bias as to race, gender and party identity. His lowest score, 7.18, was in ability to skillfully foster settlement.
Hanna, 54, of Madison, graduated from Manhattan College in 1980 and Fordham University School of Law in 1984. He began his career as an associate at Cahill Gordon & Reindel in New York, handling commercial litigation.
He went to the Civil Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark in 1990 and moved to the Frauds Division in 1997, where he prosecuted white-collar criminal matters, including cases targeting alleged fraud at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.
In May 2006, Hanna joined Gibbons as a partner in the Newark firm’s Criminal Defense Department, handling white-collar criminal and other matters.
Hanna joined the state Attorney General’s Office in January 2010 as director of the Division of Law.
Christie named him BPU president last December, replacing Lee Solomon, who went back to the Superior Court bench in Camden County.
Although not registered to a party, Hanna in 2009 made a $300 donation to Christie’s inaugural committee, as well as two, $250 donations to Christie’s campaign, one each for the primary and general elections, according to an online database maintained by the state Election Law Enforcement Commission.
At Monday’s press conference, Christie said those donations did not amount to declaring a political affiliation, but rather donations to “a former boss who might become governor. Maybe it was just smart,” Christie said.
Bauman’s nomination came as a surprise since reports had been circulating that Christie intended to nominate Solomon, a Republican who also had served as a state assemblyman and assistant U.S. attorney, to the court. He did not address that issue in announcing his two nominees.
Christie also took pains to point out that both Bauman and Hanna received unanimous votes in the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate when they were nominated to their current positions. Senate Democrats even praised them, he added.
Christie also noted that Sweeney has acknowledged that he is entitled to have a Republican majority on the court.
Sweeney and Judiciary Committee Chairman Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, were noncommittal on the nominees.
“The governor has made his nominations, as is his right,” Sweeney said in a statement. “At this point in time, however, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further.”
Scutari also declined comment, other than to say the committee “will take the necessary time to look at them.”
New Jersey State Bar Association President Kevin McCann said the bar’s Judicial and Prosecutorial Appointments Committee will evaluate the nominees.
“For the past 40 years, the New Jersey State Bar Association has had the only nonpartisan role in reviewing judicial and prosecutorial candidates, by virtue of the Hughes Compact,” said McCann, of Bridgeton’s Chance & McCann. “We look forward to fulfilling this role to provide guidance and insight to Gov. Chris Christie regarding the Supreme Court nominees.”