Home>Feature>Rabner elevates three temporary Supreme Court Justices

New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner. (Photo: Seton Hall University).

Rabner elevates three temporary Supreme Court Justices

Fuentes is retiring on September 1

By David Wildstein, August 15 2022 10:35 am

Three appellate court judges have been temporarily elevated to the New Jersey Supreme Court to fill vacancies caused by retirements as they await the Senate confirmation of Rachel Wainer Apter and Gov. Phil Murphy’s nominations of two other vacant seats.

Chief Justice Stuart Rabner announced the retirement of Jose L. Fuentes, an appellate court judge who has been on temporary assignment to the Supreme Court since January, when Justice Jaynee LaVecchia retired.  The 66-year-old Fuentes is leaving four years before he reaches mandatory retirement age.

He is elevating the next three senior appellate presiding judges, Clarkson S. Fisher, Jr., Jack M. Sabatino and Douglas M. Fasciale, to serve on the state’s top court until the vacancies are filled.

The temporary move leaves the New Jersey Supreme Court with five men and two women – and no Hispanics.

Fasciale is a leading candidate for appointment as an associate justice to replace Justice Faustino Fernandez-Vina, who retired when he turned 70 in February.  Both are Republicans.

Fisher may remain on temporary assignment to the Supreme Court until November 29, when his 70th birthday will necessitate retirement.  While Fisher’s late father, former U.S. District Court Chief Judge Clarkson S. Fisher, had been a Republican assemblyman, Fisher is a Democrat.

The 64-year-old Sabatino is a Democrat.   The three elevations retain the tradition that the New Jersey Supreme Court will have no more than four of its seven members coming from one political party.  Appellate Court Judge Carmen Messano has waived his assignment to the Supreme Court, Rabner said.

Rabner and Fabiana Pierre-Louis, named by Murphy in 2020, are Democrats.  Justices Anne Patterson and Lee Solomon, both appointed by Gov. Chris Christie, are Republicans.

If Wainer Apter, who was nominated in March 2021 and is still awaiting signoff from State Sen. Holly Schepisi (R-River Vale), is confirmed first, Fasciale would be the first to go since he is third in seniority.  That might force Rabner to do some maneuvering, as he did earlier this year by leaving some seats empty.

But the reality is that Wainer Apter is unlikely to get signoff from Schepisi unless the nomination of Fernandez-Vina’s replacement goes to the Senate in tandem.

Wainer Apter is reportedly considering a move to another county to obviate Schepisi’s use of senatorial courtesy.

Sabatino’s elevation means that the only two Harvard Law graduates in the New Jersey judiciary – Rabner is the other – will be serving on the Supreme Court.

While on temporary assignment, Fisher, Sabatino and Fasciale will have full votes on the seven-member Supreme Court.  Fuentes had cast deciding votes on the release of two high-profile convicted murderers since his assignment.

Rabner’s order is effective September 1.

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