New Jersey Attorney Discipline Rules (R.1:20)
The current New Jersey judicial system was established under the State Constitution of 1947. The Constitution restructured the previously fragmented and overlapping courts by consolidating authority under the state Supreme Court with review of lower court appellate and trial decisions by the respective divisions of the Superior Court.
The strong role given to the state Supreme Court by the constitution has been further enhanced by the Court's own interpretation of its authority. In its decision in Winberry v. Salisbury, the court asserted its authority over procedural issues followed by the courts, holding that the court itself, not the legislature, had the power to make rules for the state judiciary. That ruling contrasted with those prevailing in most other states and with that of the federal judiciary, which derives its authority from Congress.
The New Jersey Supreme Court also has been recognized for its controversial activism in intervening in policy areas argued to be more properly within the jurisdiction of the legislature. In financing of the public schools, the Court ordered the closing of all schools until the legislature complied with its decision to increase funding for urban school districts which led to the enactment of the state's first income tax and a later series of decisions directed the state to provide billions of dollars for school construction and renovation. The Court also has taken aggressive positions on land use and zoning, most notably in its series of decisions following the case of Mt. Laurel mandating that municipalities are required to provide for affordable housing. In Abbott v. Burke (1981), or Abbott I, which was filed on behalf of students of the most depressed school districts. The Court decided that a single test must be applied statewide to determine if students were getting the constitutionally mandated education. Also, the Abbott districts are given state aid to match the operating budget of the richer districts. Since then there have been seven "Abbott cases", many of which ended with the court finding the New Jersey Legislature's latest educational acts unconstitutional.
In 1975 and 1983, two cases, both named Southern Burlington County N.A.A.C.P. v. Mount Laurel Township, were decided by the Court. The Constitution was interpreted to require that zoning authorities inclusionarily zone their land to create affordable housing, that the districts had to equally take on the required load of housing, and that exclusionary zoning was illegal. These requirements are now commonly referred to as the Mount Laurel Doctrine.
In Democratic Party v. Samson (814 A.2d 1028) the Court allowed the state Democratic Party to change their candidate for the upcoming federal Senate race from Robert Torricelli to Frank Lautenberg despite the deadline having passed. In its opinion it cited previous cases before the Court, including one stating "Election laws are to be liberally construed", to decide that the change was in the interest of the electorate.
ubsequently, however, the court has evinced a willingness to accept the judgment of the state legislature on issues that are arguably procedural in cases where there is no real conflict between the legislative decision and the policies embodied in the rules promulgated by the court itself. to urts are the most visible part of our legal system. Though many legal issues and disputes are never brought to the courthouse, each year approximately seven million new cases are filed in New Jersey's courts. In those cases, judges are called upon to decide disputes involving such diverse topics as criminal law, motor vehicle violations, divorce, and other family matters, wills, contracts, defective products, and of course our basic rights as Americans, such as freedom of speech.
There are only a few basic types of courts in the state. Municipal courts, Tax Court, state Superior Court, which includes the trial courts, an Appellate Division and the New Jersey Supreme Court. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New Jersey is Stuart Rabner.
The New Jersey Supreme Court, composed of a chief justice and six associate justices appointed by the governor subject to confirmation by the state senate, is the state’s highest appellate court. Once confirmed, justices serve for a seven-year term and, if subsequently re-nominated by the governor and confirmed by the Senate, serve until mandatory retirement upon reaching the age of seventy. Its decisions on the interpretation of state statutes are final, but cases raising questions of federal constitutional or statutory law are subject to review by federal courts. A final decision of the state Supreme Court may be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court at its discretion after the filing of a petition for certiorari arguing why the case raises substantial issues of federal constitutional or statutory law and should accordingly be heard by the Court.
As the highest appellate court, the Supreme Court reviews cases from the lower courts. Most litigants must request that the Court hear their appeal by filing a petition for certification with the Court. 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 conflicting Appellate Division decisions. In very limited circumstances, such as where a judge in the Appellate Division files a dissenting opinion, a party may appeal as of right to the Supreme Court. 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 and discipline of the judiciary and attorneys.
The Appellate Division of the Superior Court is New Jersey's intermediate appellate court and decides approximately 6,500 appeals and 8,500 motions each year. Its decisions are subject to review, at its discretion, of the state Supreme Court, with selected appeals of significant importance or urgency heard by the Supreme Court prior to a decision by the Appellate Division. Judges of the appellate Division hear appeals timely taken as of right from the final judgments of the Law Division and the Chancery Division of the Superior Court, final judgments of the Tax Court and final decisions of state government administrative agencies. In special situations, trial court litigants may also seek permission of the Appellate Division to review interlocutory or interim orders of a trial court or agency prior to a final decision. The Appellate Division is generally comprised of 32 judges who sit in two and three judge panels chosen from parts consisting of four judges, with each part administered by a Presiding Judge.
Criminal, civil and family cases are heard in the trial courts. Criminal cases are those in which a defendant stands accused of a serious crime, such as assault , theft, robbery, fraud, or murder. Approximately 50,000 criminal cases are heard in the Criminal Division of Superior Court each year.
Most civil cases that are heard in the Superior Court involve disputes in which a plaintiff claims that he or she has been hurt by the actions of the defendant and seeks monetary compensation. Examples of such cases are those involving automobile accidents, medical malpractice, breaches of contracts and landlord tenant disputes.
Civil cases in which the amounts in controversy exceeds $15,000 are heard in the Civil Division of Superior Court. Cases in which the amounts in controversy are between $3,000 and $15,000 are heard in the Special Civil Part of the Civil Division. Those in which the amounts in controversy are less than $3,000 also are heard in the Special Civil Part and are known as small claims cases. In all, about 560,000 cases are heard in the Civil Division and Special Civil Part.
Civil cases in which monetary damages are not being sought are heard in the General Equity Division of Superior Court. General Equity judges handle non-jury cases such as those involving trade secrets, labor matters, foreclosures and other disputes in which court relief, often in the form of restraining orders, is sought on an emergency basis.
Family related cases, such as those involving divorce, domestic violence, juvenile delinquency, child support, foster-care placements and termination of parental rights, are heard in the Family Division of Superior Court. About 350,000 cases are handled by the Family Division each year.
Municipal Courts are statutory courts of limited jurisdiction. The 539 About 6 million cases are filed in New Jersey’s 539 Municipal Courts each year. Municipal Court judges are appointed for three-year terms by the mayor, with the advice and consent of the council, or in some cases directly by the governing body. In joint Municipal Courts, which are courts serving more than one municipality, the appointment is made by the governor with the advice and consent of the state Senate. In contrast to judges of the Supreme and Superior courts, Municipal Court Judges do not have tenure, are not subject to a mandatory retirement age and typically serve part-time and allowed to practice law for clients in cases not in conflict with their judicial responsibilities. The Municipal Courts are of limited jurisdiction and hear cases involving parking and motor vehicle violations; municipal ordinances; cases involving hunting, fishing and boating laws; disorderly person violations; and other minor offenses. Municipal Court decisions may be appealed to the Superior Court. A Superior Court judge will hear the case again (a Trial De Novo) based upon the evidence submitted during the Municipal Court hearing. The Superior Court Assignment Judge, as the chief judicial officer in each Vicinage (Judicial Management District), has plenary responsibility for the administration of the Municipal Courts.
Some reasons to file an appeal are:
- You believe the facts do not support the judge’s decision; or
- You believe the judge’s decision does not follow the law.
Important Points to Remember
A person who disagrees with the decision of a Municipal Court may appeal, with the notice of appeal received by the Municipal Court within 20 calendar days of the court's decision, for review at the county level in the Superior Court, Law Division. There is a mandatory non-refundable fee of $100 plus additional transcript fees which must be paid in advance. The Superior Court judge reviews the transcript produced from the audio recording of the municipal court trial and any other evidence or legal papers from the trial and makes a decision regarding the case. New testimony or evidence are generally not admitted for the appeal.
The Judiciary has prepared an information packet, " How to Appeal a Decision of a Municipal Court ", for persons wishing to appeal a Municipal Court decision.
The Office of Attorney Ethics acts as the investigative and prosecutorial arm of the Supreme Court of New Jersey in discharging the Court's constitutional responsibility to supervise and discipline New Jersey attorneys.
The OAE assists and manages 18 district ethics committees and 17 district fee arbitration committees throughout the state. Additionally, the OAE itself handles serious, emergent and complex disciplinary prosecutions. The OAE also administers the Random Audit Compliance Program, which monitors the recordkeeping responsibilities of private practice law firms.
In order to engage in private practice in New Jersey, you must:
a. pay the annual assessment;
b. complete the attorney annual registration statement and keep the data current throughout the year;
c. maintain a bona fide office under R.1:21-1(a);
d. fulfill the requirements of R. 1:21-6, including trust and business accounts in an approved New Jersey financial institution; e. keep trust accounts IOLTA-compliant (R. 1:28A); and
f. maintain required levels of malpractice insurance under Court Rules if practicing in a P.A., P.C., L.L.P., or L.L.C.
The New Jersey Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection, an entity of the Supreme Court of New Jersey, exists under the authority of Rule 1:28. It was established to reimburse clients who have suffered a loss due to dishonest conduct of a member of the New Jersey Bar. The New Jersey Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection was created as a Committee of the New Jersey State Bar Association in 1961. At the request of the Bar, the New Jersey Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection took its present form in 1969 and has served as a national leader. Formerly known as the Clients' Security Fund of the Bar of New Jersey, the New Jersey Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection's nature and purpose were not affected by the 1991 name change. The New Jersey Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection handles the payment and registration process for lawyers admitted to practice.
* New Jersey Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection, Supreme Court of New Jersey
* New Jersey Law Firms, Martindale-Hubbell
* New Jersey Lawyers, Attorneys, and Law Firms, FindLaw/Thomson Reuters
* New Jersey Attorney Index, New Jersey Judiciary
* Best Law Firms New Jersey, US News & World Report
* Best Lawyers New Jersey, BestLawyers.com
* New Jersey Law Firm Rankings, lawfirmstats.com
Several of the larger law firms also maintain active government lobbying practices, although some have reduced or eliminated government relations work as a result of "pay to play" laws and other restrictions on political activity by firms which also represent state or local government clients. In March 2016, the New Jersey Law Journal published its annual survey of the leading lawyer-lobbying firms; based on their 2015 revenues, the Law Journal ranked the top firms as Gibbons ($2,639,902); Optimus Partners ($1,780,700); Archer Public Affairs/Archer & Greiner ($1,262,612); Riker, Danzig, Scherer, Hyland & Perretti ($1,243,069); and Porzio Governmental Affairs/Porzio, Bromberg & Newman ($1,165,672). Gibbons, as the leading law firm in lobbying, ranked fourth overall of all lobbying firms, behind the government relations firms of Princeton Public Affairs Group ($9,400,869); Public Strategies/Impact )$6,399,513); and MBI Gluck-Shaw ($3,764,159. Overall, the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission reported that a total of just over $70 million was spent on lobbying in 2015 by all firms and associations required to report their expenditures.
* 'Revenues Rebound for NJ Lawyer-Lobbyists in 2015,' 3/3/2016, New Jersey Law Journal (registration required)
* Total Spending by Lobbyists 2010-2015, New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission