Seeking to fix a severe judicial vacancy crisis that has shut down civil court trials and divorces in six New Jersey counties, Gov. Phil Murphy is planning to fill nine more Superior Court judgeships in a state where there are presently 62 vacancies, 13% of the 463-member judiciary.
The latest round brings the total number of judicial nominees awaiting confirmation votes by the State Senate to 28. Of those 28, thirteen have cleared the senatorial courtesy process, and six (not including the latest round of nine) are still awaiting signoff from at least one senator.
Still, the judicial shortage is treading water at best. Between now and June 30, around the time the Senate breaks for the summer, an additional seven judges are expected to retire.
Murphy is naming Administrative Law Judge Susan Olgiati, a 58-year-old Democrat from Moorestown, to fill one of the three vacant Superior Court judgeships in Cumberland. A former chief of staff in the state attorney general’s Division of Law, Olgiati is the wife of lobbyist Rick Wright, the former executive director of the Assembly Republicans.
Also being nominated to the Superior Court is John Abromitis, 55, a law partner of former Republican State Chairman Michael Lavery and a former president of the Warren County Bar Association. He would fill the last remaining open seat in Warren County.
Janine Allen, a 57-year-old Oakland resident and the public defender in Sussex County could take the only open seat in Sussex. A trustee of the New Jersey State Bar Association, Allen is an unaffiliated voter.
Former Madison Councilman Martin Barbato, the chief legal officer at Foster Wheeler Power Systems, could fill one of the two open judgeships in Morris County. At age 67, he’ll only be able to serve on the bench until March 7, 2026, when he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70.
Kevin Barry, 46, a former assistant prosecutor from Verona and a Republican who clerked for two Superior Court judges, potentially fills one of the eight current vacancies.
Murphy’s newest judicial nominations seeks to fill four of the nine vacant seats in Bergen County. In this package, two are Republicans – Robert Landel and David Labib – one is a Democrat – William Soukas – and Kevin Purvin is not affiliated with any political party.
The 55-year-old Landel is the township attorney in Wyckoff, where he resides, and is a former Wyckoff planning board attorney and prosecutor. He is also the attorney for the Allendale Zoning Board.
Soukas, a 53-year-old Fair Lawn resident, is the brother-in-law of Bergen County Commissioner Tracey Silna Zur and has represented several local school boards.
Labib, 46 is from Ridgefield Park and practices law in Jersey City, and Purvin, 54, a former assistant Hudson County Prosecutor, lives in Wyckoff.
Purvin, 53, is an unaffiliated voter from Wyckoff who practiced law in North Bergen. Labib, 46 is a Republican from Ridgefield Park.
The 62 vacancies does not include the seat held by Jill Mayer, who was confirmed to a Camden County Superior Court seat 15 months ago but has refused to take office because she wants to take a state pension and her judicial salary simultaneously, which is not allowed.
In February, Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner took the extraordinary step of suspending civil and matrimonial trials entirely in six counties. Residents of Somerset, Hunterdon, Warren, Gloucester, Salem, and Cumberland Counties have now been without full judicial services for nearly two months.