Superior Court Judge Jose L. Fuentes will serve on the New Jersey Supreme Court on a temporary basis until a replacement for Justice Jaynee LaVecchia is confirmed by the State Senate, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner announced on Monday.
Fuentes is the senior state appellate court judge. He was nominated to the bench by Gov. Jim Florio in 1993 and was elevated to the appellate division in 2002. He has served a presiding judge since 2011.
In 1991, Fuentes had filed as an independent candidate for State Assembly in the 33rd district against incumbents Bernard Kenny, Jr. (D-Hoboken) and Louis Romano (D-West New York), but withdrew.
LaVecchia announced on March 8 that she would step down on August 30, but agreed to stay up to four more months after Gov. Phil Murphy’s nominee to replace her had not yet been confirmed by the State Senate. Her decision was unexpected, since LaVecchia does not reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 until October 2024.
One week later, Murphy said he would nominate Rachel Wainer Apter, a former law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, to replace LaVecchia. Without signoff from State Sen. Holly Schepisi (R-River Vale) necessary under the unwritten rule of senatorial courtesy, Wainer Apter’s nomination has stalled.
Wainer Apter’s nomination expires a noon on January 11, when the new session of the legislature begins, and Murphy was either renominate her or submit a new name.
Fuentes moved up to the top court last month to break a 3-3 tie to overturn the conviction of Michelle Lodzinski, who had already served five years in prison for the 1991 murder of her six-year-old son, Timothy Wiltsey. Among LaVecchia’s last decisions was in support of toppling the conviction of Lodzinski, who was in custody from 2014 until last week.