This is a status report provided by the New Jersey State Bar Association on recently passed and pending legislation, regulations, gubernatorial nominations and/or appointments of interest to lawyers, as well as the involvement of the NJSBA as amicus in appellate court matters. Visit njsba.com to learn more.
Assembly Advances Community Service for License Suspensions
The New Jersey General Assembly overwhelmingly voted in support of legislation to permit people convicted of driving with a suspended license to be sentenced to a sheriff’s labor assistance program (SLAP) as an alternative to jail time. The New Jersey State Bar Association supports the bill because it allows for discretion in sentencing.
A2630 (Gusciora) is a response to the holding in State v. Pollina, 2014 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2896 (App. Div. December 15, 2014), that people who are sentenced to a term of imprisonment under N.J.S.A. 39:3-40 are required to serve their sentence in a county jail because the statute does not authorize non-custodial alternatives. This bill allows those convicted of driving with a suspended license to be sentenced to SLAP, or enforced community service.
Counties are authorized to establish such labor assistance programs under the supervision of the sheriff to provide supervised physical labor as a sentencing option. In counties that do not have such programs, enforced community service would go through the probation services division.
There is no senate version of the bill, and the NJSBA will continue to monitor it.
Assembly Committee Moves Domestic Violence Training Bill
Earlier this month, the Assembly Appropriations Committee advanced A4040 (Singleton)/S2546 (Weinberg), which requires training for law enforcement officers and assistant county prosecutors on how to better handle domestic violence cases. The NJSBA supports the bill as a positive measure for all involved in domestic violence matters.
The bill embodies two of the recommendations in the report of the New Jersey Supreme Court Ad Hoc Committee on Domestic Violence issued in June 2016. The NJSBA had members who sat as representatives on the committee and were part of the research and recommendation process.
The pending bill would require both law enforcement officers and assistant county prosecutors to have additional training. As it stands now, the Office of the Attorney General is responsible for training all law enforcement officers in how to investigate and manage reports of domestic violence and all training must be held within 90 days of appointment or transfer and are required to attend annual training sessions. Under this bill, the training would have to be through an in-person, instructor-led course, rather than online. The bill also adds training for assistant county prosecutors who handle domestic violence cases, which would be consistent with the training requirement for judges and judicial personnel.
Another aspect of the bill would address who is on teams that respond to domestic violence situations. Current statute requires all law enforcement agencies must have a crisis team or participate in established domestic crisis team, and train individual officers in methods of dealing with domestic violence and neglect and abuse of the elderly and disabled. The statute includes social workers, clergy or other persons trained in counseling, crisis intervention or in the treatment of domestic violence and neglect and abuse of the elderly and disabled victims to be part of those teams. An amendment was made to the bill to include licensed marriage and family therapists on the team.
Assembly Judiciary Committee Hears Testimony on Judicial Independence on Municipal Courts
The Assembly Judiciary Committee heard testimony from invited witnesses on the impact that fiscal constraints may have on the independence of municipal courts and municipal judges.
While the NJSBA has no formal position on the issue, NJSBA members Mike Testa Jr., a trustee, and Steve Williams, past chair of the Municipal Court Practice Section, were invited to testify in their individual capacities on the issue.
The issue of judicial independence and ensuring that the public has access to a court system that is fair and accessible is part of the association’s mission. Several years ago, the association had an independent task force examine the issue on a wide scale. More recently, the NJSBA formed a subcommittee to look into the issue and last year held a series of public hearings around the state to explore judicial independence in municipal courts. The subcommittee is currently concluding its review of the issue and is expected to soon present its finding to the NJSBA Board of Trustees. This spring, the New Jersey Supreme Court also formed a subcommittee to review the issue.
NJSBA Submits Comments on Municipal Court Practice Supplemental Report
The NJSBA provided comments on the Supplemental Report of the Supreme Court Committee on Municipal Court Practice. The association lauded the Court’s efforts to create a uniform adjournment policy among municipal courts, specifically by creating a waiver of a first appearance for defendants represented by counsel who provide information to the court.
“Requiring attendance at a first appearance with a client where little is actually accomplished is often not a good use of the litigant’s, attorney’s or court’s time,” NJSBA President Robert Hille wrote to Judge Glenn Grant, the Acting Administrative Director of the Administrative Office of the Courts. Hille highlighted the fact that a number of attorneys are from solo or small firms.
The NJSBA did express reservations about the type of information that would be required to be shared with the court and with additional obligations placed on attorneys, as proposed in R. 7:6-1. The proposal says that to obtain a waiver, an attorney is required to send a letter to the court stating that they will request discovery in three days, and that they have advised defendant of potential immigration consequences, the range of potential penalties and the right to remain silent and that any statement may be used against the defendant. The NJSBA said that places an attorney in a potentially precarious position with regard to revealing client communications that may be privileged.
The NJSBA pointed out that this proposed rule conflicts with the requirement of R. 7:7-7(g) that a request for discovery be made contemporaneously with the entry of appearance. Thus, such a change would generate confusion about when a request for discovery would be made, according to the NJSBA. Further, affirmation of the fact that a defendant was advised about immigration consequences and other constitutional rights could potentially put attorneys and clients in an adversarial position with attorneys being required to report on potentially privileged conversations with clients.
“While any competent attorney will review this information with a client,” said Hille, “there is still significant value in the court conducting an inquiry or advisement of same at the time of the actual first appearance.”
The NJSBA recommended that the only change the Court adopts in connection with R. 7:6-1(b) is to excise “unless the court otherwise orders” from the first sentence in the provision and to leave the rest alone.
Finally, the NJSBA recommended that the Court create a form waiver similar to those in Superior Court to ensure uniformity with the waiver process.
Attorney Volunteers Sought for Military Legal Assistance Program
The New Jersey State Bar Association’s Military Legal Assistance Program provides free legal advice to veterans who encounter legal issues before their deployment or upon their return home. Members of the military who have served in active duty or in the reserve units can receive assistance with family law, debtor-creditor issues and employment law matters. Any attorney who annually volunteers more than 25 or more hours of pro bono service can earn a Madden exemption. To find out more, visit njsba.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.