Supreme Court

The following information sources were used, as well as interviews and visits to museums and historic landmarks, and we encourage you to visit these informative and interesting websites:

State Government – Judicial Branch

The judicial branch decides how state laws should be applied. The governor appoints judges to the Supreme and Superior courts with the Senate’s approval. The judges serve seven-year terms, but after they have been re-appointed once, they can serve until they are 70.

The highest court in the judiciary branch is the state Supreme Court. This court hears cases involving constitutional problems and other major matters. The Supreme Court consists of a chief justice and six associate justices.

The chief justice investigates complaints against the courts, supervises the clerks and court workers, and oversees the court finances. He or she earns $156,634 per year. Associate justices each earn $152,191.

The state Superior Court is divided into the Appellate, Law, and Chancery divisions. Superior Court is where most trials take place. The Appellate Division hears appeals of decisions from lower courts and state agencies. Law hears cases in its Criminal Division and Civil Division. Criminal deals with people accused of crimes while Civil deals with lawsuits. Chancery consists of a General Equity Division and Family Division. General Equity cases involve matters such as contracts. The Family Division deals with family and children’s legal matters.

Current Supreme Court Justices

Top row, L to R: Justice Roberto A. Rivera-Soto; Justice Barry T. Albin; Justice John E. Wallace, Jr.; Justice Helen E. Hoens; Front row, L to R: Justice Virginia Long; Chief Justice Stuart Rabner; Justice Jaynee LaVecchia.

The New Jersey Supreme Court is the highest appellate court. It is composed of a chief justice and six associate justices. As the state’s highest appellate court, the New Jersey Supreme Court decides appeals from the lower courts and cases in which a panel of appellate judges has disagreed on one or more issues on appeal. In addition, litigants may file a petition for certification with the Court to request that they hear their appeal. The Court may agree to hear an appeal because it presents legal issues of great importance to the public or because the issue is the subject of separate, conflicting appellate opinions. In deciding the cases that come before it, the Court interprets the New Jersey and the United States Constitution, New Jersey statutes, administrative regulations of the state’s governmental agencies, as well as the body of common law. The chief justice also serves as the administrative head for the court system, overseeing the management of the state’s courts.

Chief Justice Stuart Rabner

Chief Justice Stuart Rabner was sworn into office on June 29, 2007 after being nominated by Governor Jon S. Corzine and confirmed by the Senate. He is the eighth Chief Justice to lead the New Jersey Supreme Court since the 1947 Constitution.

Born on June 30, 1960, Chief Justice Rabner was raised in Passaic. He graduated summa cum laude from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University in 1982. He graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1985. He was a law clerk to U.S. District Court Judge Dickinson R. Debevoise before joining the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark in 1986.

After beginning his career as an assistant U.S. attorney, Chief Justice Rabner worked in a number of positions including first assistant U.S. attorney and chief of the terrorism unit. He was chief of the office’s criminal division when he was named chief counsel to Governor Corzine in January 2006. He was named New Jersey attorney general in September 2006 and served in that position until his nomination to the Court.

Chief Justice Rabner is a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute of Judicial Administration at New York University School of Law. He served as a member of the Board of Directors of the Conference of Chief Justices from 2010 to 2012.

Chief Justice Rabner and his wife, the former Deborah Wiener, have three children.

Justice Barry T. Albin

Justice Albin was nominated by Governor James E. McGreevey on July 10, 2002 to serve on the Supreme Court. He was confirmed by the Senate on September 12, 2002 and was sworn in as an Associate Justice by Chief Justice Deborah T. Poritz at a private ceremony on September 18, 2002. On October 3, 2002, he reaffirmed the oath of office in a public ceremony at the Trenton War Memorial. Justice Albin was confirmed by the Senate for a second term and tenure on June 22, 2009.

At the time of his nomination, Justice Albin was a partner in the Woodbridge law firm of Wilentz, Goldman and Spitzer.

Justice Albin was born on July 7, 1952, in Brooklyn, New York. He graduated from Rutgers College in 1973. After graduating from Cornell Law School in 1976, he began his career as a Deputy Attorney General in the Appellate Section of the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice. Justice Albin then served as an Assistant Prosecutor in Passaic and Middlesex counties from 1978 to 1982. He began his association with the Wilentz firm in 1982, and was named a partner in 1986.

Justice Albin is a past President of the New Jersey Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (1999-2000) and served as a member of the New Jersey Supreme Court Criminal Practice Committee from 1987 to 1992. He was selected by his peers to be included in the publication “Best Lawyers in America” (2000-2001).

He and his wife, Inna, have two sons, Gerald and Daniel.

Justice Jaynee LaVecchia

Justice LaVecchia was nominated by Governor Christine Todd Whitman to serve on the Supreme Court on January 6, 2000. She was confirmed by the Senate on January 10, 2000 and sworn in for a term to begin February 1, 2000.

At the time of her initial nomination, Justice LaVecchia had been serving as the New Jersey Commissioner of Banking and Insurance since August 24, 1998. Prior to her appointment as commissioner, Justice LaVecchia had been the Director of the Division of Law within the Department of Law and Public Safety since August 1, 1984. As director, she was responsible for the legal work of all lawyers assigned to the civil side of the New Jersey Attorney’s Office.

In addition, Justice LaVecchia served as Director and Chief Administrative Law Judge for the Office of Administrative Law from 1989 through July 1994. She also served in the Office of Counsel to Governor Thomas H. Kean, first as an Assistant Counsel and then as Deputy Chief Counsel. She also has been in private practice and worked as a deputy attorney general in the Division of Law.

Justice LaVecchia was born in Paterson on October 9, 1954. She is a 1976 graduate of Douglass College and graduated in 1979 from Rutgers School of Law in Newark. She has been a member of the New Jersey Bar since 1980. In 1996, she was elected a Fellow of the American Bar Association. She has chaired or served on various Supreme Court Committees, subcommittees, and other Court-assigned projects. She has been an active member of the Douglass College Alumnae Association.

Justice Helen E. Hoens

Helen E. Hoens was nominated to the Supreme Court by Gov. Jon S. Corzine on Sept. 21, 2006. She was confirmed by the Senate on Oct. 23 and sworn into office on Oct. 26, 2006.

Born in Elizabeth, New Jersey on July 31, 1954, Justice Hoens attended public schools in South Orange-Maplewood. She holds a B.A. in government from the College of William and Mary, graduating with high honors, and a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center. While at Georgetown, she served on the Georgetown Law Journal, first as a member of the staff and then as the editor of the journal’s annual volume devoted to developments in criminal procedure in the federal circuit courts. Upon graduation, she served as a law clerk to Judge John J. Gibbons during his service on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit before embarking on a career in private practice.

After her clerkship, Justice Hoens worked in private practice, first at Dewey, Ballantine and with the Law Office of Russel H. Beatie, Jr. in New York. She moved to New Jersey to practice with Pitney, Hardin and later with Lum, Hoens, Conant Danzis & Kleinberg, where her father, Charles H. Hoens Jr., was a founding partner.

Justice Hoens was appointed to the Superior Court in 1994 by Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, and reappointed by Acting Gov. Donald T. DiFrancesco in 2001. She was elevated to the Appellate Division in August, 2002 by Chief Justice Deborah T. Poritz.

Justice Anne M. Patterson

Following her nomination by Governor Chris Christie and confirmation by the Senate, Justice Anne M. Patterson was sworn in as an associate justice by Chief Justice Stuart Rabner September 1, 2011.

Justice Patterson was born in Trenton on April 15, 1959, and raised in Hopewell Township and Princeton. In 1980, she graduated magna cum laude from Dartmouth College, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She is a 1983 graduate of Cornell Law School, where she won the Cuccia Cup moot court competition. She was admitted to the New Jersey Bar in 1983.

In 1983, Justice Patterson joined the law firm of Riker, Danzig, Scherer, Hyland & Perretti LLP as an associate. In 1989, Justice Patterson left Riker Danzig to serve as a deputy attorney general and special assistant to New Jersey Attorney General Peter N. Perretti, Jr., handling civil litigation and criminal appeals on behalf of the state. After rejoining Riker Danzig, Justice Patterson became a partner in the firm in 1992. Her practice focused on product liability, intellectual property and commercial litigation in state and federal trial and appellate courts.

Justice Patterson served as Chair of the New Jersey State Bar Association Product Liability and Toxic Tort Section, as an officer and trustee of the Association of the Federal Bar of New Jersey, and as a trustee of the Trial Attorneys of New Jersey. From 1991 to 2006, Justice Patterson served on the New Jersey Supreme Court Committee on Character. Justice Patterson was awarded the William A. Dreier Award for Excellence in the Advancement of Product Liability and Toxic Tort Law and the New Jersey Commission on Professionalism’s Professional Lawyer of the Year Award. She was elected to the New Jersey Fellows of the America Bar Foundation in 2011.

From The NJ Courts Kids Website

Most people have heard of the United States Supreme Court. It is the highest court in the country. Some people do not know that every state also has its own Supreme Court. It reviews cases that are appealed from the lower courts in the state. Because it is the highest court, it is sometimes called “the court of last resort” in New Jersey.

The Justices of the Supreme Court

The seven people on the New Jersey Supreme Court are called justices. There is one chief justice and six associate justices. They were each chosen by the governor to serve on the Supreme Court. The New Jersey State Senate must confirm the governor’s choice.

Like all judges in New Jersey, the justices are lawyers. By going to law school and working as lawyers, they learned about the law. They need to know the law to do the important work of hearing and deciding very difficult and complicated court cases. Knowing the law is good, but justices must also be good at reading, writing, listening, talking and thinking.

The Justices review decisions the other courts have made.

The Supreme Court decides all kinds of cases. It decides criminal cases, when a defendant has been accused of breaking the law. It decides civil cases, when someone seeks money or wants the courts to protect their rights in some other way. It also decides family cases, such as divorces and cases involving child custody.

The Supreme Court does not review every single case from the lower courts.

Have you ever been tempted to ask one parent for something even though the other parent said no? Everyone who loses a court case would like to go to a higher court and have the decision overturned.

Most Supreme Court cases begin in a lower court called the Superior Court. There was probably a trial, with a judge and maybe even a jury. People who believe that the Superior Court didn’t make the right decision in their case can appeal the decision in the Appellate Division. There, two or three judges will review the case to see if the decision is correct based on the law.

Sometimes, however, a court case involves a new problem. There are some times that the Supreme Court needs to hear a case:

  1. The case might be about a new law and people aren’t sure how that new law affects their situation.
  2. The two or three Appellate Division judges do not agree with each other on how a case should be decided.
  3. Maybe there have been two court cases that seem alike. One case turned out one way, and the other case turned out another way, so people are not sure which case to follow.
  4. Sometimes the case is so important that it could affect many of New Jersey’s citizens for years to come.

Those are all reasons why the Supreme Court of New Jersey might decide that it needs to review a case and issue a decision.

The Supreme Court must give permission for someone to file a case.

A petition for certification is a request from the losing party, or side, in a lower court case for the Supreme Court to review the decision. If a petition is granted, the Court will hear the case. If a petition is denied, the Court has decided that the case is not something that it should review. The Supreme Court is asked to review more than 1,000 cases each year. It only grants petitions for about 100 cases. The other cases do not get a review.

The Supreme Court hears oral arguments and both sides get to speak.

The Court hears cases in Trenton, the state capital. Before each case, the justices read the briefs. The briefs are essays that explain why the Court should agree with them in the case. Even though “brief” means “short,” a Supreme Court brief can be very long.

The Court meets in the courtroom to listens to arguments. An argument does not mean people are yelling. In a court argument, lawyers for each side give all the reasons why their view of the case is the right one. The justices also ask questions about the case. They need to make sure they understand what the lawyers are trying to say in order to be fair.

After arguments, the justices will meet to talk about the case with each other. Each justice will share his or her ideas about how the case should be decided. The Chief Justice will ask one of the other justices to write an opinion. The opinion explains all of the facts about the case. It also talks about the laws that the Court used to guide them in their decision.

Even though “opinion” sounds like the decision is not final, it is. The people in the case must do as the Supreme Court says. The opinion is read by other judges and lawyers. It is used as a guide in other court cases.

What if the justices do not all agree how a case should be decided? Sometimes the justices who disagree write a dissent. The dissent explains why they disagree with the rest of the Court. The dissent does not change the case. Only the majority opinion, signed by at least half of the justices, must be followed.

The New Jersey Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court are different.

Each state has its own constitution and its own laws. Each state has its own court system and its own supreme court to hear cases about state laws. The U.S. Supreme Court reviews cases about the U.S. Constitution and federal law. The U.S. Supreme Court cannot review cases about the New Jersey state constitution or New Jersey state laws.

By reviewing decisions made by the lower courts, the Supreme Court helps the people of New Jersey live safely together under the laws that were made to keep us safe and to protect our rights as citizens.

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Until the 1947 constitution, New Jersey had a sixteen member court of appeals and errors. After that constitution, a seven member court of errors and appeals was created and modeled after the United States Supreme Court. According to the Encyclopedia of New Jersey, under the strong leadership of Chief Justice Arthur Vanderbilt and his successors, this new judicial body has emerged as one of the nation’s leading courts.

The Supreme Court consists of a Chief Justice and six Associate Justices. These justices are appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the senate. Before becoming justices, many are involved in politics, often from the executive branch. An appointed justice serves a seven year term and if reappointed and confirmed by the senate they remain on the bench until they reach the mandatory retirement age of seventy-years-old.

Because they are appointed by the Governor and approved by the senate, and because their terms are long, they are less affected by politics and have judicial independence. In order to keep the court fairly even, governors attempt to maintain parity between the two major parties and will honor that tradition by appointing a judge from the other party if necessary. The court has a great deal of discretion when selecting the cases it will hear and generally selects cases with statewide significance; cases include school funding, restrictive zoning requirements, adoption, and the rights of terminally ill patients.

Former Chief Justices

Chief Justice June 29, 2007 to Present
Stuart Jeff Rabner (born June 30, 1960) is the Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court. He has previously served as New Jersey Attorney General, Chief Counsel to Governor Jon Corzine, and as a federal prosecutor at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey.

Chief Justice 2006-2007
James Ronald Zazzali (born June 17, 1937) was the Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court from October 26, 2006 until his retirement on June 17, 2007. He previously served as an associate justice on the Supreme Court from June 14, 2000.

Chief Justice 1996-2006
Deborah Tobias Poritz (born October 26, 1936) is an American jurist. She was the Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court from 1996 to 2006, and was the Attorney General of New Jersey from 1994 to 1996, in both cases becoming the first woman to serve in that position.

Chief Justice 1979-1996
Robert Nathan Wilentz (1927 -1996) was Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court from 1979 to 1996, making him the longest-serving Chief Justice since the Supreme Court became New Jersey’s highest court in 1948.

Chief Justice 1973-1979
Richard Joseph Hughes (1909-1992) was an American Democratic Party politician, who served as the 45th Governor of New Jersey from 1962 to 1970, and as Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court from 1973–1979. Hughes is the only person to have served New Jersey as both Governor and Chief Justice.

Chief Justice 1973-1973
Pierre P. Garven (1926-1973) was Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court for seven weeks in 1973. Son of Bayonne mayor Pierre P. Garven, Garven was appointed by Governor of New Jersey William T. Cahill, after having served as an Associate Justice on the same court for several months. He took office as Chief Justice on September 1, 1973. Garven died of a stroke on October 19, 1973. He was survived by five children and his wife, Sandra. Garven was succeeded as Chief Justice by Richard J. Hughes, the only person ever to serve as both Governor and Chief Justice of New Jersey.

Chief Justice 1957-1973
Joseph Weintraub (1908-1977) was Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court from 1957 to 1973. He previously served as an Associate Justice of the same court in 1956-57.

Chief Justice 1948-1957
Arthur T. Vanderbilt (1888-1957) was Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court from 1948 to 1957. He also was a noted attorney, legal educator and nationally known proponent of court modernization.

Chief Justice 1946-1948
Clarence Edward Case (1877-1961) was the acting Republican Governor of New Jersey in 1920, succeeding William Nelson Runyon. Case served on the New Jersey Supreme Court from 1929 to 1952, and was the Chief Justice from 1946 to 1948.

Chief Justice 1933–1946
Thomas J. Brogan (1889-1965) of Jersey City, Hudson County, N.J.; Rumson, Monmouth County, N.J.
Born in County Meath, Ireland, 1889. Democrat. Lawyer; associate justice of New Jersey state supreme court, 1932-33; chief justice of New Jersey state supreme court, 1933-46; resigned 1946; delegate to New Jersey state constitutional convention from Hudson County, 1947; delegate to Democratic National Convention from New Jersey, 1948. Died in Middletown, Monmouth County, N.J., May 29, 1965 (age about 75 years). Interment at Holy Name Cemetery, Jersey City, N.J.

Chief Justice 1901-1933
William Stryker Gummere (1852–1933) was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New Jersey. Gummere was captain of the Princeton football team that met Rutgers in 1869 in the first intercollegiate football game played in America. Gummere was appointed an associate justice on the New Jersey Supreme Court in 1895. On January 28, 1901, he was appointed to the position of chief justice and sworn in as such on November 19, 1901 along with Mahlon Pitney who was sworn in on same day as associate justice. Prior to serving on the NJ Supreme Court, Gummere became popularly known as “Dollar-a-life Gummere” after his ruling in a Jersey City case where a child had been killed in a street railroad accident. The parents brought suit for $50,000 compensation, but Justice Gummere ruled that a child’s life is financially not worth more than $1 to its parents. After stubborn fighting in the courts, and taking the case to the highest tribunal in the State, Justice Gummere was overborne and $1000 awarded the parents of the dead child.

Chief Justice 1824-1832
Charles Ewing (1780-1832) was an American politician from New Jersey, who served as Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court. Ewing graduated from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in 1798 and then moved to Trenton to study law with Samuel Leake, a local lawyer. He was licensed as an attorney in November 1802, as a counselor in 1805, and called to the degree of sergeant- at-law in 1812. Ewing was the recorder for the City of Trenton, ran unsuccessfully for the New Jersey Legislature in 1815, was a commissioner to revise the laws of New Jersey in 1819, and the director of the Trenton Banking Company in 1821 and 1823-1824. Ewing was appointed as Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court in 1824 and was reelected to that post shortly before his death from cholera in 1832. Ewing married Eleanor Graeme Armstrong, daughter of the Rev. James Francis Armstrong, and they had two daughters and two sons. Ewing Township, formed on February 22, 1834, was named in his honor.

Chief Justice 1804-1825
Andrew Kirkpatrick (1756–1831) was an American lawyer and jurist from New Jersey. He was a member of New Jersey General Assembly in 1797-98, and was appointed to the New Jersey Supreme Court in 1798. In 1804, he became the chief justice of that Court, and remained so until 1825. For many years Kirkpatrick was a trustee of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) and was a vice-president of the American Bible Society. He died on January 7, 1831 at New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Chief Justice 1789-1803
James Kinsey (1731-1803) was an American lawyer from Burlington, New Jersey. He was appointed Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court on November 20, 1789, and served until his death in Burlington on January 4, 1803. Kinsey also served as a Member of the New Jersey Legislative Council representing Burlington County in 1791. He was buried in Saint Mary’s Episcopal Churchyard in Burlington.

Chief Justice 1779-1789
David Brearley (often spelled Brearly) (1745-1790) was a delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention and signed the U.S. Constitution on behalf of New Jersey. Brearley resigned from the army in 1779 to serve as the New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice, succeeding Robert Morris. He decided on the famous Holmes v. Walton case where he ruled that the judiciary had the authority to declare whether laws were unconstitutional or not. He held the seat until 1789. He is buried in the churchyard of Saint Michael’s Episcopal Church in Trenton, New Jersey.

Judicial Salaries

Position 2009 Salary Current Justice
Associate Justice $185,482 Anne Patterson
Associate Justice $185,482 Jaynee LaVecchia
Associate Justice $185,482 Barry Albin
Associate Justice $185,482 Anne Murray Patterson Nominated
Associate Justice $185,482 Roberto Rivera-Soto
Associate Justice $185,482 Helen Hoens
Chief Justice $192,795 Stuart Rabner

The salary of New Jersey’s chief justice ranks 4th among U.S. chief justices’ salaries. The average salary earned by U.S. chief justices is $155,230. The median salary earned by U.S. chief justices is $151,284. The salary of New Jersey’s associate justices ranks 4th among U.S. associate justices’ salaries. The average salary earned by U.S. associate justices is $151,142. The median salary earned by U.S. associate justices is $145,984.

From The Sunshine Review