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Friday, May 21, 2010

New Jersey's Judges Can Declare Their Own Independence


New Jersey lawyers are very worried about judicial independence in the wake of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's decision not to reappoint a sitting judge on the state's highest court to a second term, according to this Newark Star-Ledger report quoting the leadership of the New Jersey Bar Association. 
The worry boils down to one core concern:  that judges will feel pressured or intimidated into making rulings to please, placate or appease the Governor and out of fear that they will not be reappointed. 

The expression of this concern implicitly admits that the judges may allow their purely personal concerns -- their career prospects -- to influence their decisions. 

A judge who allows extraneous considerations, like financial considerations, would violate all sorts of judicial canons of ethics, if not various federal statutes such as the "honest services" statute which remains on the books.   Isn't it remarkable that the New Jersey Bar Association is complaining about the loss of judicial independence while implicitly arguing that the state judiciary can be easily intimidated and pressured?  

Whether one agrees or disagrees with Christie's decision not to reappoint Supreme Court Justice John Wallace (and we at Crime, Politics and Policy express no opinion), this much is certain:  This is the time for judges to distinguish themselves with their intellectual bravery and boldness. 

The independence of the judiciary can be reaffirmed right now, by the judiciary itself.   The judges have a brilliant opportunity to assert their independence, their intellect and their integrity, by making accurate, lawful and bold rulings adhering to our laws and the state and federal constitutions.   While doing this, the judges can also send a strong message -- that they will not allow political or personal considerations, pressures or enticements to ever interfere with or compromise their integrity.

Eric Dixon is an attorney admitted to practice in both New York and New Jersey.  

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