Home>Highlight>Six Superior Court nominees clear committee, with lots more waiting in the wings

Ridgefield Mayor Anthony Suarez at his Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to become a judge of the Superior Court. (Photo: Joey Fox for the New Jersey Globe).

Six Superior Court nominees clear committee, with lots more waiting in the wings

23 other nominees have been submitted to Senate for approval

By Joey Fox, March 13 2023 1:38 pm

The Senate Judiciary Committee gave its unanimous approval to six nominees to the Superior Court today, most of them from Bergen County, making more steady progress at bringing down New Jersey’s notoriously high number of judicial vacancies.

Amy Lefkowitz, Nicholas Ostuni, Marc Ramundo, Anthony Suarez, Demetrica Todd-Ruiz, and Dalya Youssef all cleared the committee with little fanfare, setting them up to be confirmed by the full Senate when it next holds a voting session. Three Workers’ Compensation Judge nominees and four Administrative Law Judge nominees, neither of which are part of the state judiciary despite their names, also passed the Judiciary Committee today.

The nomination of Suarez, the mayor of Ridgefield, is notable given his history: he was acquitted by a federal jury in 2010 after being hit with corruption charges in a probe led by then-U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, charges he argued were politically motivated.

Youssef, meanwhile, is seemingly set to become the second Superior Court judge in New Jersey history to wear a hijab; the first, Nadia Kahf Alqudah, was just confirmed last month.

The number of Superior Court vacancies was 67 as of last week and has hovered between 60 and 70 for months – an untenably high rate that forced Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner to halt civil and matrimonial trials in six counties due to a lack of judges.

But thanks to a rash of new nominations put forward by Gov. Phil Murphy in recent months, there could be substantial progress in bringing the vacancy rate down. Not including today’s six nominees who are likely soon headed to the bench, there are another 23 pending nominees who could begin moving through the Senate at any time, assuming they get the necessary senatorial courtesy.

While most of those nominees were put forward sometime this year, three of them – Julie Kim, Damian Santomauro, and Kristin Vassallo – have been stuck in limbo since last spring with no progress. (Todd-Ruiz, nominated in June 2022, was also a member of that group until her committee hearing today.)

In addition to the many vacant Superior Court seats, there is also one open seat on the state Supreme Court, last held by former Justice Barry Albin until his mandatory retirement in July 2022. It’s been eight months since Albin left the court, but there’s been no public progress to nominate someone for his seat, which is currently filled on a temporary basis by Superior Court Judge Jack Sabatino.

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