A series of four hearings by the New Jersey State Bar Association over the next few months will focus on the independence of municipal courts in New Jersey.

The Bar Association's Kimberly Yonta said fairness at the municipal court level should be about judicial independence and impartiality, not money.

"Why would the revenue that is generated from the court be an issue for them to be appointed or reappointed," she said.

According to the New Jersey Bar Association, municipal courts in New Jersey handle roughly 6 million matters each year.

Last year, Yonta said, the Bar Association's Board of Trustees approved reports from a task force on judicial independence.

"Specifically, with regard to municipal courts, the task force had recommended that the state Bar Association look into the fact that there might be some fiscal restraints associated with the municipal courts being independent," she said.

According to Yonta, in some New Jersey towns, municipal court judges are appointed or reappointed based on how much money the court generates.

"We, of course, do not want that to be a situation where judges, if they are doing a good job and they are deciding cases based upon justice and law and they are fair and independent...then why would the revenue that is generated from the court be an issue for them to be appointed or reappointed," Yonta said. "Or even consider whether they have tenure, because right now typical court judges do not have any type of tenure process."

Yonta says the hearings seek input from citizens, attorneys and even judges.

"Hopefully, these hearings will allow the residents of New Jersey to come forward and speak out if they have a concern," she said.

Yonta added that citizens should voice their opinion during the hearings.

"If you have any anecdotal evidence or stories about what has happened in municipal court, if you have had a story that you believe that something was unfair or unjust, and it was based upon something that might have been fiscal or revenue-generated or you felt was unfair or you have an opinion about the issue, that is what we want to hear," she said.

The first hearing is scheduled for next Monday in New Brunswick from 3 to 4:30 p.m. at the New Jersey Law Center.

Subsequent hearings will take place:

  • May 2, from 5 to 7 p.m., at Rowan University in Glassboro;
  • May 19, from 3 to 4:30 p.m., at the NJSBA Annual Meeting and Convention in Atlantic City; and
  • June 6, from 4 to 6 p.m., at Seton Hall University School of Law in Newark.

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