Douglas M. Fasciale, a veteran state appellate court judge from Westfield, has emerged as a leading candidate for one of the three vacant seats on the New Jersey Supreme Court under an agreement being worked out between Gov. Phil Murphy and Senate President Nicholas Scutari, the New Jersey Globe has confirmed.
A Republican, Fasciale would replace Faustino Fernandez-Vina, who reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 in February. That would keep the partisan balance of the court intact.
The potential deal still hinges up on Scutari’s ability to get State Sen. Holly Schepisi (R-River Vale) to sign off on Murphy’s nomination for Rachel Wainer Apter to replace retired Justice Jaynee LaVecchia.
Murphy announced his pick of Wainer Apter, a former law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and now the director of the state Division of Civil Rights, in March 2021. But Schepisi has senatorial courtesy over Wainer Apter, a Bergen County resident, and has refused to sign off on her.
Superior Court Judge Maritza Berdote-Byrne had once been on top of the list to replace Fernandez-Vina. She has been interviewed by the governor’s office but is no longer under active consideration for a seat on the Supreme Court. Last week, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner temporarily assigned her to the appellate court.
But if Murphy picks Fasciale for the Republican seat, he will be almost certain to narrow his list of candidates to replace Justice Barry Albin, a Democrat who turns 70 on July 7, to Hispanic candidates. It is hugely unlikely that Murphy would put himself in a position to leave the top court without any Hispanic justices.
Murphy will need to decide if he wants to make history by naming the state’s first Latina Supreme Court Justice. If he does that, he’ll also add the talking point of a top court that has a majority of women – something that happened once before, under Republican Gov. Christine Todd Whitman.
Berdote-Byrne and Union County Assignment Judge Lisa Miralles-Walsh, both Republicans, had been on short list to replace Fernandez-Vina but won’t get any consideration for Albin’s seat.
Fasciale has served nearly 18 years as a Superior Court Judge. He served as presiding judge of the both the criminal and civil divisions in Union County before Rabner elevated him to the appellate division in 2010. He’s been a presiding judge of an appellate panel since 2019.
Gov. James E. McGreevey nominated Fasciale in 2004 at the recommendation of State Sen. Thomas Kean, Jr. (R-Westfield), following the retirement of Judge Edward Beglin. He received tenure in 2011.
Fasciale grew up in East Brunswick, attended Seton Hall University, clerked for Judge John Keefe, and became a partner at Hoagland, Longo, Moran, Dunst & Doukas, a politically influential New Brunswick law firm where he had extensive trial court experience. He also served as president of the Westfield Rotary Club.
The 61-year-old Fasciale could serve a little more than eight years on the state’s highest court before reaching the mandatory retirement age in November 2030. That would mean the winner of the 2029 gubernatorial election would name his replacement, unless the state passes a constitutional amendment raising the retirement age of judges before then.
Scutari told senators on Wednesday that they should expect to return to Trenton in late July or early August to confirm nominees to the Superior Court.