Three more Superior Court judges are planning to retire early, adding to the growing shortage of judges in a state with a significant state court backlog, and setting up a reshuffling of the state appellate court division.
Two appellate court judges – Richard S. Hoffman, and Garry S. Rothstadt – are expected to step down this year; Rothstadt on September 1 and Hoffman on November 1. All three are leaving before the mandatory retirement age of 70.
And Colleen Maier, a 60-year-old veteran family court judge, has privately sent word that she will retire before the end of the year. There is some speculation that Maier, who served as a Democratic state committeewoman before becoming a judge in 2005, could resume a career in Gloucester County politics after she leaves the bench.
Steven F. Nemeth is stepping down today at age 65 and after 15 years as a Superior Court Judge.
New Jersey is losing judges faster than Gov. Phil Murphy can nominate them. There are currently 63 vacancies on the Superior Court , along with three empty seats on the New Jersey Supreme Court.
While retirement benefits for judges have increased, so has have their personal contributions. Some judges are finding that by contributing more money, they are putting themselves in an upside-down net pay situation.
Ten Superior Court judges nominated by Murphy are awaiting Senate confirmation. Senate President Nicholas Scutari and Judiciary Committee Chairman Brian P. Stack have said they will consider some of those nominations in a Senate session to be held this month.
Hoffman, who turns 68 this week, was nominated to the Superior Court by Gov. James E. McGreevey in 2004. He has been an appellate court judge since 2004.
The departures of Hoffman and Maier opens up two Superior Court judgeships in Gloucester County, where Republican State Sen. Edward Durr (R-Swedesboro) now has senatorial courtesy over their replacements. Hoffman is a Republican and Maier is a Democrat.
Rothstadt is 63 and had another seven years before he would have been forced into retirement. A Democrat, he was nominated to the bench by Gov. Donald DiFrancesco in 2001 and has been an appellate court judge since 2013.
There are eight more judges who will reach the mandatory retirement age before the end of the year: Frances A. McGrogan (Bergen) in October; Thomas R. Vena (Essex), Gary D. Wodlinger (Cumberland), William J. McGovern III and Clarkson S. Fisher, Jr. (Monmouth) in November; and Vincent N. Falcetano, Jr. (Monmouth), Michael T. Collins (Ocean) and James J. DeLuca (Bergen) in December. Fisher is an appellate court judge.
Chief Justice Stuart Rabner alone has the authority to assign judges to the appellate division.
He has already temporarily elevated Marita Berdote Byrne, Avis Bishop-Thompson Joseph Marczyk as appellate judges, but he’s not obligated to assign them to replace Hoffman, Geiger and Rothstadt.
Maier’s early retirement could put her in line to run for office in Gloucester County, where she was active in politics before Gov. Richard Codey named her to the Superior Court in 2005 at the suggestion of State Sen. Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford).
She comes from a prominent political family: her father was the Gloucester County freeholder director, her brother was a Washington Township councilman, and her mother was the Deptford Township Clerk.
Prior to becoming a judge, Maier was a municipal prosecutor in Deptford, Mantua and Cherry Hill, the solicitor for the Gloucester County Utilities Authority, the Woolwich Planning Board and the Logan Zoning Board.
Judges have sometimes changed their minds and pulled back their retirement papers, often after lobbying from their colleagues.
Correction: Judge Richard S. Hoffman is retiring on November 1. An earlier report indicated that Judge Richard Geiger is retiring early, but a spokesman for the courts says that retirement will not occur until next year.