Rule amendments approved by the New Jersey Supreme Court, including several instituted in response to changing technology, are set to take effect on Sept. 1.
Here are some of the most notable:
1. Rule 1:4-1(b), which governs the form and execution of court papers, was amended to require inclusion of New Jersey attorney identification numbers on the top pages of filings.
Already required were names, addresses and telephone numbers. It's a forward-looking change meant to help with the long-awaited conversion to an e-court comprehensive electronic filing system — a project that has been discussed at least as far back as 2008 but remains without sufficient legislative funding.
Inputting the ID number could automatically call up attorney contact information so it would not have to be entered every time.
2. Rule 1:8-3, which governs juror selection, will be amended with subsection (g), which makes clear to judges that proceedings must occur in open court, even when courtroom space is in short supply, absent "a compelling need."
A judge must consider "reasonable alternatives" such as switching courtrooms or allowing observation through electronic means, and issue a statement of reasons explaining why public access was limited or denied.
Individual voir dire still will be allowed in an on-the-record sidebar or in writing. Sometimes prospective juror pools fill every courtroom seat, but the U.S. Supreme Court in Presley v. Georgia, 130 S. Ct. 721 (2010), upended a criminal conviction because the courtroom was closed to the public during voir dire.
3. Rule 1:21-1(a)(4) applies the court's relaxation of the "bona-fide office rule" to out-of-state attorneys.
That change, effective last February, allows lawyers to operate without a bricks-and-mortar office location, paving the way for "virtual offices."
Lawyers still must designate an in- or out-of-state fixed location — for mail or hand-delivery of service, and inspection of client files and records by investigators if necessary — and be reasonably available for client meetings and other communications.
Corresponding adjustments were made to Rule 1:20-1(c), which governs collection of annual fees; and RPC 5.5, which requires out-of-state lawyers practicing here to comply with New Jersey rules.
4. Rule 1:32-2A is a new rule, crafted with an eye toward implementation of an e-court system. It authorizes development of systems for electronic filing, signatures, recordkeeping, and data indexing — and gives each of those the "same force and effect" as paper records. The change brings the rules up to date with those governing municipal, special civil and foreclosure matters, which already have electronic filing programs.
5. Rules 3:26-1(g) and 7:4-1 will provide for issuance of domestic violence temporary restraining orders, as a condition of bail, by electronic communication.
Judges will be able to issue TROs based on the sworn testimony of a law-enforcement officer or prosecutor who isn't present, "communicated … by telephone, radio or other means of electronic communication."
The judge will be required to see that the sworn testimony — deemed a legal affidavit — is recorded by a voice recording, a stenographic device or, if necessary, "adequate long hand notes."
6. Another change, to Rule 3:26-4(g), also deals with bail conditions for domestic violence defendants.
It will add "certain crimes or offenses involving domestic violence" to the list of offenses for which a 10 percent cash bond is not available for release. (That list already includes first- and second-degree criminal offenses.) The "certain crimes and offenses" are those that involve alleged violation or contempt of a temporary or permanent restraining order.
7. Rule 5:3-5(d) will simplify the process for attorney withdrawal from family court actions. It provides that attorneys, with client consent, may withdraw 90 days or more preceding a scheduled trial date, or, within those 90 days, by leave of court only. The cutoff date, before the impending change, was the 90-day mark or the early settlement panel hearing, whichever came first.
8. Rule 5:10-12(a) codifies what information must be included in judgments of adoption: the child's identity, using only the birth name initials in most cases; the gender, place and date of birth; the placement date; the name of the adoption agency, if any; reference to any prior court order issued in connection with parental rights; termination of all prior parental relationships, rights and responsibilities, except those that vested prior to the adoption; confirmation of compliance with the federal Indian Child Welfare Act; the grant of the adoption; the child's new name; and an order authorizing issuance of a birth certificate with the child's new name, listing the adoptive parents.
9. Rule 5:12-1(a), governing removal of children from the home by state authorities, provides for the notices of placement and change to be confidential — "in the interest of the child and shall be provided only to the court" — and filed electronically only by a caseworker.
Information about the foster home will be provided to the law guardian and may be given to defense counsel, though not to a defendant parent — which would allow the attorney to address issues such as travel distance for visitation without immediately disclosing the child's whereabouts to the parent.
10. Rule 7:12-3 allows defendants to plead guilty to traffic of parking offenses by mail — or to plead not guilty, if accompanied by a written defense for use at trial — if an appearance would create an "undue hardship" because of illness, physical incapacity, travel distance or incarceration. The provision is being amended to allow the administrative director of the courts to designate certain traffic or parking offenses that will be exempt from the hardship requirement — effectively allowing any defendant to plead by mail.