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New Jersey Courts Set to Resume Jury Trials


New Jersey courts are set to resume jury trials after being suspended for more than six months because of Covid-19, under a Supreme Court Order dated September 17, 2020.

The first trial is scheduled to begin in Bergen County on Monday, Sept. 21 with virtual jury selection before Superior Court Judge Robert Vinci. Jury selection will be conducted using a hybrid approach. Voir dire questioning will primarily take place in a virtual format, with technology provided by the Judiciary as needed.

Follow-up questioning and the exercise of peremptory challenges will be conducted in person.

The trial will be conducted in a socially distanced courtroom.

“The decision to resume a limited number of jury trials is motivated by the ongoing restrictions of the rights of criminal defendants, including more than 2,500 defendants who have been indicted and are detained in jail awaiting trial, as well as the rights of victims of crime seeking access to the courts to complete a critical step in their recovery,” said the court in an Order signed by Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner. “In addition, the extended delay in the administration of civil justice, including more than 9,000 cases awaiting trial today, also compels the resumption of jury trials.”

More than 200 potential jurors will be questioned virtually over the first several days.

A smaller group of prospective jurors will appear at the Bergen County Courthouse in Hackensack on Monday, Sept. 28. New Jersey’s first socially distant, in-person jury trial is expected to begin that same week.

The preparation to return to jury trials already has resulted in the settlement of 10 criminal cases in Bergen County.

“Jury trials are the catalyst for resolving cases, both in criminal and civil matters. The availability of a judge and jury ready to hear a case prompts pleas in criminal matters and settlements in civil cases. In contrast, the unavailability of jury trials removes the impetus for case resolution and stalls the wheels of justice. Countless individuals are adversely affected as a result,” the Court said in its order.

Virtual jury selection is expected to start soon in Atlantic County the week of Sept. 28, Cumberland County the week of Oct. 5 and Mercer and Passaic counties the week of Oct. 19.

To the extent feasible, the first new jury trials will be straightforward criminal cases involving a single detained defendant.

The first several socially distanced inperson jury trials will be livestreamed to the public.

“For more than six months, the New Jersey courts have sustained court operations to the greatest extent possible without jury trials. During that time, public health authorities have confirmed that Covid-19 trends in New Jersey no longer require all residents to stay at home, and those same authorities have issued guidance for how businesses, schools, and other institutions including the courts can safely resume some level of in-person activity.

Guided by the public health experts and recognizing its duty to uphold the rule of law even when it is difficult to do so, the Court authorized the resumption of jury trials,” the Court said in its order.

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In The Courts Recent News

Daniel Waterfield, of Lawnside, Sentenced to 8-Year Prison Term For Dumping Body of Woman Who Fatally Overdosed in His Vehicle

Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina announced on September 14, 2020 that a 55-year-old Lawnside man was sentenced today to eight years in New Jersey state prison for dumping the body of a woman who had fatally overdosed in his vehicle on the side of a Southampton Township road in late 2018.

The sentence was handed down to Daniel Waterfield in Superior Court by the Hon. Gerard H. Breland, J.S.C. A jury found Waterfield guilty in March 2020 of Desecrating Human Remains (Second Degree). He has been detained in the Burlington County Jail since being convicted.

The investigation revealed that on Halloween night in 2018, Waterfield left the lifeless body of a Paulsboro woman on the berm of Purgatory Road near the intersection with Route 70 in Southampton Township.

Kerri Ann Stetser, 36, who had fatally overdosed hours earlier inside Waterfield’s pickup truck, was pronounced dead at the scene. She was not carrying identification and was later identified by her fingerprints.

Members of Kerri’s family spoke in court today, making sure Judge Breland realized that she was a person who was loved, and someone who would never treat anyone the way she was treated by Waterfield.

“This case is tragic for so many reasons, and the inhumane actions of this defendant made it even more heartbreaking for Kerri’s family,” Prosecutor Coffina said. “Instead of reporting Kerri’s death, he pulled her from his truck and discarded her on the side of the road. Nobody deserves such heartless treatment, and maybe he will come to that realization during his time in prison.”

Charges remain against a co-conspirator who Waterfield contacted for help disposing of Stetser’s body. Amanda Seth, 36, of Camden, is presently a fugitive.

The case was investigated by New Jersey State Police detectives from the Troop “C” Criminal Investigation Office, Crime Scene Investigation Unit, and Homicide South Unit.

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Community Calendar In The Courts

Camden Vicinage to Hold Opening of Court & Memorial Ceremony Sept. 21


The Camden Vicinage and the Camden County Bar Association will conduct an opening ceremony for the new court year and a memorial service on Monday, Sept. 21 for members and former members of the bar association who passed away during the prior court year.

Beginning at 9 a.m., the ceremony will take place virtually, via Zoom.
Assignment Judge Deborah Silverman Katz will preside over the ceremony, with bar association officers and trustees coordinating the presentations.

This year, the memorial service will pay tribute to U.S. District Judge Jerome B. Simandle and Superior Court Judges Charles A. Little, Sr. and Samuel Natal, as well as bar members Frank Thatcher, Michael P. Albano, Richard DeMichele and Benjamin Goldstein.

“With this ceremony, the Judiciary and members of the bar will celebrate the lives of these departed members and recognize the importance and integrity of our legal system,” Judge Silverman Katz said.

The ceremony can be accessed here.

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In The Courts Recent News

Dwayne Vandergrift Charged With Bombing & Unlawful Possession of Explosives and Short-Barreled Rifle

CAMDEN, N.J. – A Gloucester City, N.J. man was charged on September 4, 2020 for detonating an explosive device at a local business and unlawfully possessing unregistered destructive devices and a short-barreled rifle, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.

Dwayne A. Vandergrift Jr., 35, of Gloucester City, New Jersey, is charged by complaint with malicious use of explosives, unlawful possession of two destructive devices, and unlawful possession of a short-barreled rifle. Vandergrift will make his initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen M. Williams at a later date.

According to the complaint:

During the early morning hours of Aug. 26, 2020, Vandergrift allegedly placed an explosive device on the front door of a local gym near his home in Gloucester City. Security camera footage recorded Vandergrift fleeing the area moments before the device exploded, badly damaging the front door and shattering its glass.

On Aug. 28, 2020, federal and local law enforcement officers executed a search warrant at Vandergrift’s home and found substantial quantities of bomb making materials, numerous weapons, including an unregistered short barreled rifle, several tactical vests outfitted with body armor and loaded 30-round ammunition magazines, and a marijuana grow operation containing approximately 85 marijuana plants.

Upon examining Vandergrift’s personal computer devices, investigators discovered that he had recently researched how to construct and utilize various explosive devices, including pipe and pressure cooker bombs. Vandergrift was arrested by local authorities on Aug. 28, 2020, and charged by the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office. He is presently in custody on those charges. 

The malicious use of explosive charge carries a maximum prison term of 20 years and a maximum fine of $250,000. The charges for possession of the unregistered destructive devices and short-barreled rifle carry maximum prison terms of 10 years each and maximum fines of $250,000.

U.S. Attorney Carpenito credited special agents and task force officers of the FBI’s South Jersey Resident Agency, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Michael J. Driscoll and the FBI’s Philadelphia Joint Terrorism Task Force, with the investigation leading to today’s arrest.  

He also thanked officers of the Gloucester City Police Department, under the direction of Police Chief Brian Morrell; the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office, under the direction of Acting Prosecutor Jill S. Mayer; the Camden County Sheriff’s Office, under the direction of Sheriff Gilbert L. Wilson; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Newark Field Division, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Charlie J. Patterson; the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, under the direction of Director Jared Maples; Homeland Security Investigations, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Jason Molina; and the New Jersey State Police, under the direction of Col. Patrick J. Callahan.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Gabriel J. Vidoni of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Criminal Division in Camden.

The charges and allegations contained in the complaint are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Click the image to view the Complaint.

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Community Calendar In The Courts

Burlington Vicinage to Hold Virtual Opening of the Courts Ceremony & Memorial Service


The Burlington Vicinage, in partnership with the Burlington County Bar Association, will hold its annual Opening of Courts Ceremony and Memorial Service on Tuesday, Sept. 8 at 9 a.m. virtually via Zoom.

Assignment Judge Jeanne T. Covert will preside over the Opening of Courts ceremony and Reema Y. Scaramella, president of the bar association, will speak and preside over the memorial service. Rocco Minervino, a member of the bar, will read The Lawyer’s Prayer, and Superior Court Judge Gerard H. Breland will sing, “To Where You Are” in honor of the deceased.

This year, the vicinage and bar will memorialize four late members of the bar: Peter C. Gallagher, Gary Piserchia, Alfred (Fred) Powell, and John (Jack) Yetman Jr.

The ceremony also will include a remembrance of former Workers’ Compensation Judge Michael P. Mullen and late bar member Anthony Marcozzi Jr.

In 1972, then-Assignment Judge Edward V. Martino began the new court year with the first Opening of Courts ceremony in the Burlington Vicinage. In recent years, the ceremony has become a tradition.

The ceremony can be accessed here.