A few notable idiosyncrasies gleaned from the survey results:
• While the presiding family judge for Morris-Sussex, Barbara Zucker-Zarett, wins queen-of-mean award for placing last in demeanor, George Seltzer, the presiding judge for general equity in Atlantic and Cape May counties, was the king of kind.
Seltzer, who finished fifth best in the courtesy category in the 1999 survey, ranked sixth best in overall compentency. As for Zucker-Zarett, she finished 319th in demeanor six years ago, dropping 49 places in the current survey.
Right behind Zucker-Zarett as the meanest judges statewide are James Citta of Ocean, Louis Hornstine of Camden, Roberto Alcazar of Union and Paul Chaiet of Monmouth.
• Somerset County Judge Rosemary Williams, suspended without pay for three months in 2001 for a public flap with her ex-lover, moved up 51 places from the 1999 survey, in which she finished in the bottom 10. Since then, she has been made presiding general equity judge. But she still finished in the 278th spot this time.
• In the 1999 survey, Essex County Judge Francine Schott had moved up from being voted the fifth worst judge in overall compentency in 1993, to a more respectable 271st. Then she sued the state court system, charging sex discrimination after she was transferred from civil to criminal while a male counterpart was moved from criminal to her courtroom in civil. This survey, she drops 58 places, to 330th, while her suit drags on.
As for the male judge who took Schott’s place in civil, albeit briefly, Donald Merkelbach is going in the other direction. Merkelbach, who was subsequently shifted to civil, moved up 86 positions from the 1999 results.
• Peter Doyne was the only nontenured judge in the 1999 survey to make the top 10. He was Bergen’s civil presiding judge at the time. But the former rising star has fallen, dipping from fifth best to 50th. Whether or not his strong endorsement of “best practices” is to blame is anyone’s guess.
• Middlesex Presiding Criminal Judge Frederick DeVesa was challenged, unsuccessfully, for that post when it was open in 2002. The NAACP and black ministers accused him of insensitivity to racial profiling in light of a memo he scribbled when he was acting attorney general in 1993. DeVesa scored among the top 36 percent statewide in overall competency in 1999. But now, following the flap, his score has dropped 159 places, to 294th. On the question of whether he shows racial bias, he was 338th.
Meanwhile, Travis Francis, the black judge who was pushed for the presiding criminal post that went to DeVesa, fared much better. He was made presiding judge of general equity after the dispute. The current survey shows Francis flourishing, jumping 157 spots from the 1999 survey, to 100. He was also voted seventh best in Middlesex, out of 34, with DeVesa down at 29th position in the county.
• Passaic County Judge Randolph Subryan placed 307th in demonstrating a lack of gender bias, down from 203rd in the 1999 survey, which combined gender, racial and ethnic bias. In December 2004, the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct recommended he be censured for making an “unwanted advance” toward a female law clerk in his chambers, violating judicial canons of ethics.
- By Tim O’Brien