Bright Side In The Courts

Atlantic County Recovery Court to Graduate 42 Participants Oct. 27

The Atlantic/Cape May Vicinage will recognize the successes of 42 Atlantic County graduates of its recovery court program during two virtual ceremonies on Tuesday, Oct. 27.

The graduates, along with their friends and families, treatment providers and court staff, will attend the ceremonies at 9:15 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. The recovery court team, led by Superior Court Judge Mark Sandson and staffed by court personnel, attorneys, probation officers, substance abuse evaluators, and treatment professionals, has continued to support participants’ recovery during the Covid-19 health crisis.

“Our total graduating class for 2020 is 88. The graduating class size reflects the enormous growth of our program, and further reflects the enormity of the substance abuse catastrophe impacting Atlantic County and our state. These graduates have achieved sobriety and employment. They are prepared for a life as positive family members, role models and citizens. All of them have embraced the concepts of honesty and recovery,” Judge Sandson said.

The ceremonies will include encouraging words from Assignment Judge Julio Mendez and Judge Sandson as they recognize the graduates’ journeys from addiction to recovery.

The ceremonies also mark Judge Sandson’s last group of recovery court graduates as he approaches retirement in November.

During his four-year tenure as recovery court judge, he has made transformative changes in the program.

In The Courts Recent News

Grand Juries to Resume Work Statewide

A Supreme Court Order issued on October 8, 2020 provides a plan for the statewide return of grand juries, ending a delay that has affected thousands of defendants held in custody since the start of the Covid-19 health crisis.

The order also allows defendants detained more than 90 days to promptly receive discovery material from prosecutors and it ends pre-indictment excludable time in phases, prioritizing those defendants who have been detained the longest. The first phase ends excludable time on Jan. 15 for cases involving nearly 600 defendants who were detained prior to March 16.

While prosecutors typically have 90 days to bring a case to a grand jury, certain delays stop the clock and qualify as “excludable time.”

Defendants have accrued more than 200 days of excludable time since in-person grand jury selections were suspended in March due to Covid-19.

There are currently more than 2,700 defendants in county jails whose
matters have not been brought to a grand jury.

“The number of unindicted detained defendants will continue to grow unless grand juries are established in all counties and enabled to perform their critical function effectively, efficiently, and consistent with public health requirements,” the Court wrote in its order.

Jurors in all counties have now been summoned for new grand jury selections.

The Supreme Court’s order provides options for prosecutors to seek indictment through both virtual and in-person sessions.

Virtual grand juries have been operating in Mercer and Bergen counties since June.

Under the order, each county must equip new panels with the technology and training needed to convene in a virtual format by Dec. 1. Prosecutors may then choose to present cases before grand juries.

Alternatively, counties may convene in-person grand juries in Judiciary locations in a manner consistent with public health recommendations. As an additional option, county prosecutors may submit a proposal to conduct grand jury sessions in an outside facility if a Judiciary location is not available.

Also under the order, the Court is provisionally adopting a new rule, modeled after the federal court system, that allows for hearings that would afford eligible defendants the right to cross-examine witnesses and present evidence while requiring the state to demonstrate probable cause and present witness testimony. The hearings would not be held if an indictment is returned.

The plan protects the rights of the thousands of defendants who are detained and awaiting appearance before a grand jury and provides the state the opportunity to prepare and present cases. It also enables the criminal justice system to move forward in a way that protects the health of jurors, attorneys, witnesses and court staff.

In The Courts Recent News

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.

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.

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.