After more than three decades, the New Jersey judiciary has released new guidelines to instruct trial judges in criminal and civil cases when they must disqualify themselves, though at least some of what’s imposed appears to be reinforcement of existing strictures.
Appellate Division Judge Glenn Grant, the acting administrator of the state court system, issued the revised guidelines on Nov. 14. They were made public on Monday.
This marks the first time the rules have been modified since 1983. A spokesman for the judiciary said the changes were part of an ongoing update of all directives.
In the guidelines, Grant said the revised rules are meant to “reinforce” the circumstances in which judges should disqualify themselves from presiding over criminal cases “without exception.”
The clarifications, Grant said in his order, are necessary because of “the liberty interests at stake in a criminal prosecution.”
Kate Coscarelli, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey State Bar Association, and Deputy Public Defender Judith Fallon, the president of the Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers of New Jersey, said their organizations were not involved in drafting the changes. The Attorney General’s Office declined to comment.
In the event a judge has ever been the county prosecutor or the chief public defender of a vicinage, recusal is necessary if, during that person’s time in office, that office was involved in the prosecution or defense of an individual who appears before him or her. That involvement would include the office’s investigation, prosecution or defense of the individual’s case. That prohibition would not apply if the judge was an assistant prosecutor or assistant public defender, as long as he or she never was personally involved in the individual’s case, the order states.
Another scenario involves a case in which a suspect appears in a civil matter before a judge who previously was a prosecutor or public defender in a case involving the litigant. That scenario, the directive says, requires a judge to recuse for a period of at least seven years.
Recusal for a period longer than seven years is possible. The directive added that judges should follow the rule established by the state Supreme Court in its 2010 ruling DeNike v. Cupo. In that case, the court erected an ethical barrier designed to prevent conflicts of interest in municipal courts, where part-time judges usually are practicing lawyers as well.
From that point, a judge must recuse whenever faced with an appearance by a lawyer who is an adversary of the judge in another open, unresolved matter.
“Since as an assistant in either office, the judge would not have been charged with overall responsibility for the conduct of the case, [and] disqualification is unnecessary absent direct or indirect involvement in the investigation, review or trial,” the directive states.