The Senate Judiciary Committee will consider six nominees for the New Jersey Superior Court when they meet on Thursday, including Burlington County Commissioner Linda Hynes.
Hynes, who ousted Republican incumbent Latham Tiver by a 55%-45% margin in 2019, has seen her nomination for a judgeship fast-tracked. Gov. Phil Murphy nominated her on December 13, five weeks after Republican Jean Stanfield (R-Westampton) won a State Senate seat Once Stanfield takes office next week, she will have signoff over all gubernatorial nominees from Burlington County.
If Hynes is confirmed by the Senate, it will trigger a special election convention to fill her seat. Since Hynes is up for re-election this year, Burlington Democrats are widely expected to replace her with the candidate they will run in the November general election.
The leading candidate to replace Hynes is Allison Eckel, a member of the Lenape Regional High School Board of Education and a candidate for State Assembly in the 8th legislative district in 2021. In the Burlington portion of the district, Eckel finished 368 votes behind Assemblyman-elect Brandon Umba (R-Medford).
Mount Laurel Deputy Mayor Steven Steglik, Evesham Democratic Municipal Chairman Mark Natale, and Lumberton Mayor Gina LaPlaca, have also been mentioned as a possible candidate.
Former Commissioner of Community Affairs Lori Grifa, former Nutley Mayor Joanne Cocchiola and Heather Taylor, Murphy’s chief ethics officer, will also be interviewed by the panel in their bids to become Superior Court judges. Also under consideration for the bench is MeLinda Hawkins Taylor, a former deputy attorney general and assistant prosecutor from East Orange.
The three judicial nominees are from Essex County and their confirmations would reduce more than a dozen vacancies on the Superior Court in that vicinage.
Taylor last appeared before a legislative committee in 2019 when she testified that in a probe of the hiring of Al Alvarez, a former top Murphy staffer who had been accused of raping a campaign volunteer in 2017. She told lawmakers that the attorney general’s office had told her that they had no jurisdiction to investigate allegations made against Alvarez.
Grifa served in Gov. Chris Christie’s cabinet for the first two years of his administration. A former assistant district attorney in New York, Grifa had served as chief of staff to Attorney General David Samson in 2002 and later became a partner at Samson’s law firm. But Grifa, who is now a partner at Archer, severed her ties with Christie and Samson several years ago.
Following in the footsteps of her father, Frank, who served seven terms as a Nutley Town Commissioner, Cocchiola became the first woman to serve as mayor of Nutley in 2004. He didn’t seek re-election to a fourth term in 2012 and instead resigned to become the municipal court judge. Cocchiola spent thirteen years as an associate counsel at the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority and has also served as the Rutherford municipal court judge since 2020.
Former acting Camden County Prosecutor Jill Mayer has also been nominated to the Superior Court. She is on Thursday’s Judiciary Committee agenda.
Cocchiola turned 63 last month and will face mandatory retirement in December 2028.