FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 6, 2023
Contact: Thomas Nobile
Director of Communications
NEW BRUNSWICK – The New Jersey State Bar Association had a busy quarter on the advocacy front. Through the combined efforts of countless NJSBA members and its leadership, the Association helped move the needle on several significant issues to the practice of law in New Jersey, its attorneys and most vulnerable residents. From improving access to justice for the underserved to safeguarding the health and well-being of those in New Jersey courts, the results achieved through NJSBA’s advocacy will have a lasting positive impact.
“Advocacy is one of the most important functions of the NJSBA. When New Jersey attorneys speak as one voice to effectuate change, legal services are enhanced, clients get a fairer shake and the system of justice runs more smoothly,” NJSBA President Jeralyn L. Lawrence said.
Here are the highlights from the Association’s advocacy work in recent months.
Reforming the Madden system of assigned counsel
The NJSBA took its strongest steps yet to reshape the broken system of mandatory pro bono assignments in right to counsel cases where there is a consequence of magnitude. In January, the NJSBA’s Board of Trustees adopted a resolution that called upon the New Jersey Supreme Court to abolish the Madden system of mandatory pro bono assignments in favor of a publicly funded compensated counsel system to represent indigent litigants who have a constitutional right to counsel.
The current system, established 30 years ago under Madden v. Twp. of Delran, is an imperfect one that assigns counsel at random to a case, regardless of the attorney’s expertise or practice area. This has created a two-tiered justice system that puts indigent litigants at a disadvantage and denies them equal access to justice, the NJSBA argued.
In addition to the resolution, the NJSBA petitioned to join a Madden-related case—State v. Jason Burgos—as an amicus party. The suit involves an attorney who was assigned to a contempt of domestic violence matter, but has only practiced law sporadically since 2000 and has never handled such a case.
Shelter for foreign nationals
At the NJSBA’s urging, the U.S. General Services Administration agreed to provide outdoor shelter at the Peter Rodino Federal Building in Newark to non-detained foreign nationals. For months, attorneys with their clients—who include infant children, people with disabilities and older adults—have braved the elements while waiting more than an hour in long lines that wrap around the building.
Lawrence wrote to the federal agency in December after members of the NJSBA’s Immigration Law Section raised the issue. The excessively long wait time in cold temperatures “prevents equal access to justice and is a risk to people’s health and safety,” Lawrence stated. She also urged the GSA to build temporary outdoor structures to shelter those in line, open a second entrance and consider other reasonable solutions to improve the wait times. The GSA responded that it is taking measures to build an outdoor shelter and will explore opening a second screening entrance.
Defibrillators in courthouses
NJSBA Trustee Amy Vasquez led a push for counties across the state to outfit courthouses with more defibrillators, as a potential lifesaving measure for those who suffer sudden cardiac arrest. In a letter sent to administrators in all 21 counties, the NJSBA stressed the importance of placing defibrillators “on every floor of all facilities with clear signage and opportunities for courthouse staff to be trained to use the machines.” Doing so will help ensure the safety of the many attorneys, judges, court staff and members of the public who visit the courthouses daily, the letter stated.
Vasquez, a child welfare attorney, has championed the issue for years after her husband went into cardiac arrest at the Gloucester County Courthouse in 2011. He died days later, leaving behind a 3-year-old daughter. A defibrillator was on a different floor of the building and arrived too late. In response to the letter, officials in Hudson and Essex counties said they would review the need to add more defibrillators in areas accessible to sheriff’s officers.
With the courts shifting back to pre-pandemic norms and in-person hearings, the NJSBA pressed the state to maintain a virtual component for attorneys and clients. The efficiencies of virtual hearings have been a meaningful addition to the legal system’s ability to provide access to justice, Lawrence said in a letter to the state Administrative Office of the Courts. Remote hearings allow attorneys to serve clients more affordably and with less stress, the letter stated.
The AOC updated its operations in October to continue holding routine conferences and motions remotely, but the implementation between vicinages has been uneven, NJSBA members have noted. One attorney reported that client no-shows in pre-trial indictment hearings have increased since returning in-person, resulting in more bench warrants. Family law clients have faced large attorney bills for routine appearances that could have been held virtually. And, in civil court, in-person special civil and landlord-tenant have become a hardship for litigants who juggle child care and work.
Guardian background screening policy
The NJSBA provided comments on proposed amendments to Rule 4:86-2(b)(3) and related updates to the Background Screening Policy for Proposed Guardians. The policy covers the appointment of a guardian for an incapacitated person. To ensure the standards are applied equally in each county, the NJSBA recommended that the changes include a clarification on how counties find a guardian beyond a name search; implement standard fingerprinting protocols; make clear to all involved in the process that only individuals in the background screening need to complete the certification paperwork; and release the results to parties through a secure portal or email system.
Password requirements for Judiciary systems
The NJSBA asked the state to reconsider expanding the password requirements for attorneys to access the Judiciary’s systems. The Judiciary strengthened its passcode approach to ward off cyber-attacks. But the new requirements—particularly one to change the 14-character password every 90 days—is vexing for users, who use the services often to file documents and access information about their cases, the NJSBA said in a letter.
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: NJSBA Communications Department
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