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Superior Court Judge-designate Karina Fuentes. (Photo: Office of the Federal Public Defender, District of New Jersey).

Murphy to nominate six new Essex judges

Vacancies could drop to just four if Senate moves on eight Superior Court judge candidates

By David Wildstein, May 12 2022 12:00 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy will nominate six new Superior Court judges in Essex County – five of them women — a move that will substantially reduce the number of Essex vacancies if the Senate confirms his picks.

The judicial nominees include a career federal prosecutor, two veteran government lawyers, two former elected officials, and a former assistant counsel to a New Jersey governor.  Three of the picks are young enough to serve more than two decades on the bench, if they are confirmed by the Senate

Karina Fuentes, a public defender, is a former associate general counsel to the Assembly Majority Office, where she staffed the Assembly Labor and Insurance & Financial Services committees.  She’s spent the last fifteen years with the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the District of New Jersey.  At age 43, Fuentes, who worked in the legislature under Speakers Albio Sires and Joseph Roberts, could get nearly 27 years on the court, enough time to move up the ladder in the state judiciary.

Angela Gunter Foster, an assistant corporation counsel for the City of Newark, has practiced law for 31 years.   She previously served as a deputy state attorney general.   At age 60, she will get a little less than a decade on the bench.

Jodi Rosenberg, 53, is a former deputy mayor of Millburn and served one term on the township committee before losing her seat in the 2018 Democratic wave election by 425 votes.  She’s spent roughly 30 years in private practice.

Cynthia Santomauro, a former councilwoman from North Caldwell, has spent nearly 40 years in private law practice.  A former municipal prosector and Essex County Improvement Authority Commissioner, Santomauro spent eighteen years on the borough council before losing her seat in 2020.  Santomauro turns 65 next month and will only get a short time on the bench before reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70 in June 2027.

Damian V. Santomauro, 48,  a former senior counsel to Gov. Chris Christie, is currently the director of commercial and civil litigation at Gibbons, one of the state’s top law firms.   He is not related to Cynthia Santomauro.

Kristin Vassallo has spent seventeen years as an Assistant U.S. Attorney and an addition three as an Assistant Bronx District Attorney.  The 47-year-old Princeton University graduate is currently the deputy chief of the Civil Division in the federal prosecutor’s office.

Essex has twelve judicial vacancies.  One the Senate confirms he six nominated today, plus previous nominations of Jennifer Critchley and Amy DePaul, the number of vacancies will drop to four.

Murphy will file his notice of intent to submit the six to the State Senate.  They have been approved by the New Jersey Bar Association and must get signoff from their home county senators before their nominations can be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee and a confirmation vote by the full Senate.

Vassallo and Damian Santomauro live in Union County but are being named to Essex seats.  They will require signoff from the three senators from that county: Nicholas Scutari, Joseph Cryan and Jon Bramnick.

Critchley, a partner at Connell Foley, is the niece of famed criminal defense attorney Michael Critchley.  DePaul  is the Essex County Trial Court Administrator.

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