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In The Courts News

N.J. Supreme Court Outlines Action Plan for Equal Justice

On July 16, 2020, the New Jersey Supreme Court outlined a series of reforms it will seek to accomplish within the next year in order to eliminate disparities within the court system and remove institutional obstacles to justice.

The Action Plan for Ensuring Equal Justice comes just over a month after a June 5, 2020 statement from the state Supreme Court in which the Court renewed its commitment to “answer the challenge of ensuring that all men and women, especially people of color, are offered the same opportunity and treatment by the court system.”

“The New Jersey Supreme Court recognizes that this effort will require continued long-term commitment, dedication, and focus to institute lasting change,” Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said. “Today, the Court announces an action plan to implement concrete steps designed to eliminate systemic barriers to equality.”

The action plan identified nine reforms that would:

  • Support juror impartiality by implementing policies and protocols so that juror orientation, model jury charges, jury selection questions and the juror selection process include a focus on impartiality and implicit bias.
  • Reduce time-frames for post-dispositional supervision for persons on probation supervision, such as graduates of the Drug Court Program and Intensive Supervision Program, to ensure that supervisory terms are tailored to provide maximum benefit without prolonging court involvement that does not contribute to rehabilitation.
  • Support juvenile rehabilitation by examining options for retroactively rescinding and prospectively eliminating court-imposed punitive fines and penalties for juveniles where appropriate.
  • Require anti-bias Continuing Legal Education for judges and attorneys.
  • Utilize new technology to make the expungement process easier and improve opportunities for all persons to access expungement resources.
  • Enable alternative methods of resolving court matters to reduce the need for litigants to appear in person at municipal courts.
  • Broaden language access resources to provide more detailed guidance on interpreting services for remote court proceedings.
  • Re-examine access to court records that create inappropriate hardships for disadvantaged populations, such as landlord/tenant complaint filings that do not note the outcome of the matter.
  • Improve the landlord/tenant process by providing plain language information to tenants and landlords about claims and defenses, and engaging judges in focused review of settlement agreements, especially those involving self-represented litigants.

The Court also committed its continued support for critical Judiciary initiatives that have confronted pervasive barriers to justice, such as municipal court reform; juvenile justice reforms, including the Juvenile Detention Alternative (JDAI) program; Criminal Justice Reform; jury selection reform; the transformation of Probation Services; and continued efforts to leverage technology in order to allow all citizens to access the court system.

The Judiciary also will continue to collaborate with the Legislative and Executive branches where appropriate on legislation that impacts access and fairness in the justice system, including a reexamination of the jury selection process, mental health initiatives, juvenile justice reforms, sentencing reforms and other issues that affect institutional bias and equality.

The Court acknowledges the exemplary work of the Administrative Office of the Courts and its director, Judge Glenn A. Grant, in particular, in the development of this action plan.

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Feature Stories In The Courts

Virtual Grand Jury Pilot Program Returns Dozens of Indictments

Virtual grand juries in Bergen and Mercer counties have returned 33 indictments since June 18, allowing stalled criminal cases to move forward safely and without crowding courthouses with potential jurors.

In-person court proceedings were suspended by the Supreme Court in March after a state of emergency was declared in response to the COVID-19 public health crisis.

There are now 1,870 defendants held in jail awaiting indictment, and additional defendants must wait for their cases to be heard while on pretrial release.

“If we could safely accommodate hundreds of grand jurors at our courthouses while tending to other emergent needs, we would do so,” said Judge Glenn A. Grant, acting administrative director of the courts. “The reality is we do not have the space to keep large numbers of grand jurors socially distanced throughout our facilities during this health crisis.”

Live grand juries also would exclude citizens in at-risk populations who might be unwilling to travel to courthouses because of legitimate health and safety concerns, Judge Grant said.

The court has instead provided any needed technological equipment so that a fair cross-section of the community has the opportunity to participate in the grand jury process.

During the pilot program, court staff delivered tablets with broadband access to seven jurors and web cameras to four other jurors and then helped them with the setup.

No jurors were turned away because they lacked the space or technological equipment to participate.

To protect the security and secrecy of grand jury hearings, only jurors have the ability to log into virtual proceedings. Jurors also are provided headphones so the hearings cannot be overheard by other members of a household.

In addition, the court supplemented its standard grand jury charge and secrecy oath with an oath that specifically addresses the requirements of participation in a virtual proceeding.

“Just as we do with live grand juries, we rely on virtual grand juries to honor the oath they are sworn to follow,” Judge Grant said.

Jurors are questioned before and after deliberations to ensure that there were no technological issues interfering with proceedings. While some grand jurors required assistance to log in, there were no incidents that compromised the actual grand jury presentment.

In Bergen County, which was among the counties earliest and hardest hit by the spread of the coronavi us, vicinage staff staged several days of mock virtual grand jury proceedings to identify and prepare for potential problems.

Jurors consistently gave the virtual grand jury pilot program high marks for efficiency and competency in surveys administered by the courts.

Since the start of the COVID-19 health crisis, New Jersey courts have moved cases forward successfully through the use of virtual technology. To date, the Judiciary has conducted 48,757 virtual court events with 470,085 participants.

“We have used virtual technology with great success in a variety of settings, including pretrial conferences, bench trials, and Supreme Court arguments,” Judge Grant said. “Virtual grand juries are not an ideal solution, but these are not ideal times. Given that we have no way of knowing when this health crisis will end, virtual grand juries are our best alternative if we are to move cases forward in a manner that allows all citizens to participate in the jury process. Justice cannot be served if the criminal justice process is stalled.”

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Feature Stories In The Courts

Judiciary’s Principles of Municipal Court Administration Program Open for Public Enrollment


The New Jersey Judiciary has partnered with Raritan Valley Community College in Branchburg to offer classes to members of the public seeking careers in municipal court administration.

The 11-week Principles of Municipal Court Administration (POMCA) program course starts at the college Sept. 14 for individuals who are interested in working towards a certification necessary for certain municipal court administrative positions.

Previously open only to Judiciary employees, this class was first offered to the public in the spring of 2019. Another offering is now available in fall 2020.

The program will give prospective municipal court employees an understanding of Judiciary policies and basic municipal court procedures, including case processing, case management and financial fundamentals in order to prepare them for career opportunities.

Registration is now open. The cost for the class, which meets once a week, is $830. Additional information is available on the RVCC website.

Contact Ellen Marinaccio at 908-332-7700, ext. 13230 for additional information

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In The Courts News

Lindenwold Man Admits Trafficking High-Dosage Oxycodone Pills as Part of Camden & Gloucester City Drug Rings

CAMDEN, N.J. – A Camden County, New Jersey, man admitted on July 7, 2020 that he bought and sold 80 milligram oxycodone pills as part of his role in drug trafficking operations based in Gloucester City and Camden, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.

Wayne Muse, 73, of Lindenwold, New Jersey, pleaded guilty by videoconference before U.S. District Judge Renée Marie Bumb to an information charging him with one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute a quantity of oxycodone and one count of distributing and possessing with intent to distribute a quantity of oxycodone.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

Muse and others, including Rocco DePoder and Erick Bell, allegedly agreed to distribute oxycodone in South Jersey between January and March 2020.

On Feb. 13 and 14, 2020, Muse communicated with DePoder using the telephone – in communications that were intercepted during a wiretap investigation led by the FBI – and arranged to sell DePoder 60 80 mg. oxycodone pills, which Muse planned to purchase from an individual identified as “Seller-1.” On Feb. 14, 2020, DePoder paid Muse $600, and Muse used $300 of that money to buy the 60 oxycodone pills from Seller-1. Muse then provided the 60 oxycodone pills to DePoder, keeping the remaining $300. Between January and March 2020, Muse also sold oxycodone pills to Bell.

Each count of the information carries a maximum prison term of 20 years and a maximum fine of $1 million.

Others, including DePoder and Bell, were charged in criminal complaints in March 2020.  Their cases are pending, and they are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

U.S. Attorney Carpenito credited special agents of FBI Philadelphia Division, South Jersey Resident Agency, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Michael J. Driscoll; the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-Office of the Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Scott J. Lampert; the Camden County Sheriff’s Office, under the direction of Sheriff Gilbert L. Wilson; the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, under the direction of Director Jared M. Maples; the Camden County Police Department, under the direction of Chief Joseph Wysocki; and the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Bethanne M. Dinkins, with the investigation leading to today’s guilty plea. He also thanked the FBI Newark Division, New Jersey State Police, Camden County Prosecutor’s Office, and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for their assistance.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Gabriel J. Vidoni of the Office’s Camden branch and Sara F. Merin of the Newark Office.

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In The Courts Recent News

Cumberland/ Gloucester/Salem Vicinage Offers Time Payment Modifications in Municipal Courts


The Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem Vicinage has implemented a program in all municipal courts in Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties for court users seeking modify their time payment schedule.

This program of the vicinage’s Municipal Division allows litigants to submit an online request to have their time payment modified or request alternative options, if applicable.

To submit a request, a defendant with a time payment in a Cumberland, Gloucester, or Salem municipal court can send an email to: v15munidiv.mbx@njcourts.gov.

The email must contain the following information:
• Name
• Date of birth
• Court
• Ticket/Complaint number
• The monthly amount they are able to pay
• Request to review their time payment
• Any additional information they believe will be relevant for the judge to review

Time payments will be reviewed by the municipal court judge and a response will be forwarded to the defendant via email. A copy of the updated time payment also will be mailed directly by the court.

For additional information, contact Ashley Wolk, municipal division manager, at 856-878-5050, ext. 15206 or ashley.wolk@njcourts.gov.