VICINAGES IN NEW JERSEY

Samuel D. Conti, Esq.
November 16, 1995

Introduction

A vicinage is a judicial district comprised of a specific geographical area, which includes one or more counties. An understanding of vicinages -- their structure, number, and function -- in New Jersey requires an appreciation of the role of the Assignment Judge in the court system. The Assignment Judge manages the judicial business of the vicinage as the chief representative of the Chief Justice. As such the Assignment Judge is both a jurist and a manager of a large enterprise -- facing the challenges of cases, coordination of responsibilities, fiscal and resource concerns, and community relations.

This brief paper attempts to shed light on the history of vicinages in New Jersey, their functions, structure, and possible future design. But it also tries to demarcate the fundamental shift that has occurred from the vicinage as the locus of Assignment Judge activity as the coordinator and scheduler of the judges, to vicinage as the hub and organizing entity of the trial court system, including an executive component, case management and personnel activities, and reviews of accomplishments. As such, the paper examines the role and function of the Assignment Judge as the central Judicial Branch figure in the vicinage because the shape, function and size of the vicinages are tied directly to the court leader in that locality.

The county-based organization of the courts was carried over after the 1947 Constitution and the Superior Court was established alongside county courts, county district courts, and juvenile and domestic relations courts.(1) The appointment of Assignment Judges and eventually the creation of the vicinage structure enabled State-level judicial leaders to oversee and coordinate the administration of criminal and civil justice in the counties and in these diverse courts. As of 1983, all trial courts (other than the municipal courts and the Tax Court) have been integrated into the Superior Court and continue sitting in the county courthouses. The consolidation of courts into the Superior Court and the termination of financial support by county government, except for facilities, as of January 1, 1995 have altered some of the relations with local government and have raised questions about the function and the current vicinage arrangement.

History of Vicinages

"The freeholder and the community," the section heading in which vicinages are discussed in Pollock and Maitland provides an ironic footnote to the recent experience in the organization of the Judiciary in New Jersey.(2) As the courts have moved away somewhat from financial dependence on the county freeholders, they are working to draw closer to the communities that they serve. At their earliest historic recognition and in their adoption as the organizational basis for the administration of the trial courts in New Jersey, vicinages have been rooted in the idea of neighborhood, of community, and of the commons. Blackstone noted the elements of neighborhood and contiguity in his discussion of vicinages.(3) The notion of neighborhood and of "a number of places lying near to each other taken collectively," informs the definition.(4)

New Jersey courts(5) have long used the term vicinage to describe the geographic jurisdiction of the Court of Chancery(6) and that usage continued in the Chancery Division of the Superior Court after the adoption of the 1947 Constitution.(7) In 1971, there were nine Chancery Division vicinages (for general equity and matrimonial matters), most of which crossed the current bounds of even the most populous counties, for example, Bergen, Hudson, and Passaic Counties formed a single vicinage.(8) For this discussion, however, the vicinages will be considered as they describe the organization, operation, and management of the trial courts. In particular, vicinages will be examined as the "neighborhoods" or geographical areas over which New Jersey Assignment Judges exercise judicial and administrative supervision.

There are judicial functions related to the county or individual counties of the vicinages (e.g., venue, actions in lieu of prerogative writs) but this analysis is limited to administrative functions.(9)

Courts traditionally have been organized and operated as districts or circuits, generally conforming to county or other geographic boundaries.(10) Courts of general jurisdiction(11) are typically housed in county-owned facilities in the county seat where sessions are held, records stored and processed, and where the services of elected officials, including the surrogate and the sheriff are provided.

The initial body of court rules adopted under the 1947 Constitution provided that: "[t]here shall be one Assignment Judge in each county. He shall be responsible for the duties heretofore performed by the Supreme Court justice in the county with respect to jury panels, charging the grand jury, the assignment of cases in the Superior Court and the County Court in the county and generally for the orderly administration of civil and criminal justice in said courts, subject to the direction in administrative matters of the Chief Justice. He [the Assignment Judge] shall preside at such criminal cases as he shall deem necessary."(12) Under the terms of the rule there would be 21 Assignment Judges, one for each of the State's counties. In the newly organized court system, Chief Justice Vanderbilt initially elected to designate 11 Superior Court judges to take on this role. As shown in Table 1, the number of Assignment Judges has changed over the years, increasing to 15 when the current vicinage structure was established in 1983.

Table 1. Number of Assignment Judges, By Year, 1948-1995

1948 11 1955 7
1949 12 1956 10
1950 13 1957 9
1951 11 1958 10
1952 12 1959- 1964 11
1953 12 1965-1981 12
1954 9 1982-1995 15

Not only has the number of Assignment Judges varied but, significantly, the counties over which the Assignment Judges exercised their responsibilities have been reconfigured. The establishment and changes in county alignments into Assignment Judge "areas" or vicinages will be discussed below.

Judicial and Administrative Functions in the Vicinages

Courts can be organized to render justice by geographic district, jurisdictional type (e.g., civil, criminal, family, chancery, taxation), jurisdictional level, often related to amounts in controversy, relief available, or subject matter (e.g., municipal courts, courts of general or special jurisdiction), or appellate hierarchy (de novo review(13), intermediate appeals, final appeals). The vicinages embrace courts that can be placed in each of these classifications. In this analysis, only trial court operations are considered, although perforce appellate courts are within boundaries of the vicinage geographic areas. Vicinage level facilities may offer housing for appellate courts, but Assignment Judges have no authority over these courts. The Tax Court may also be located within a county courthouse but these courts, for most purposes, are under the administrative control of the Presiding Judge of the Tax Court.(14) The Municipal Courts, operating in cities and towns across the State, are within the administrative purview of the respective Assignment Judges. The jurisdiction of the courts for which the Assignment Judge is responsible is extremely broad. Individually, Assignment Judges typically hear an array of cases, often presiding over actions in lieu of prerogative writs(15) and other sensitive cases, occasionally serving as the Presiding Judge of the Civil Division(16) of the court.

In the early stages of their development the court rules were not detailed about either administrative or case management responsibilities of the Assignment Judges. The primacy of the Assignment Judge in the administrative structure was not always clear. For example, the earliest rule calling for the convening of the Judicial Conference with regard to appointing delegates, refers not to the Assignment Judge but to "the senior judge of the Superior Court of the county."(17) The rubric of the "assignment of cases ...and ... the orderly administration of civil and criminal justice"(18) has been elaborated over the years and the Assignment Judge has been designated the "chief judicial officer within the vicinage"(19) with responsibility for "the supervision and efficient management of all court matters filed in the vicinage."(20)

Although Assignment Judges have been given responsibility for the administration of civil and criminal justice within the county explicit references in the earliest rules related predominantly to jury management.(21) It may be inferred that the early role of the Assignment Judge in connection with juries was to charge the grand jury, to oversee the creation of juror master lists, and to maintain ties to the communities served.

It was not unusual for the Assignment Judge or other Law Division judge from an urban county, serving also as the Assignment Judge for a rural county, to travel to the rural county a day or two a month to select jurors, call a list, or meet with judges. Continuous or regular presence by an Assignment Judge in the less populous county was not common. The early concept of a vicinage was not as a "hands on" court management entity, but as a judicial service and control point.

Duties were conferred on Assignment Judges in criminal (R.R. 3-11-5 (a) [1956]) and civil (R.R. 4:41-5 [1956]) practice. It is, however, the duties of the Assignment Judge for the county (or later, vicinage), acting "subject to the direction, in administrative matters of the Chief Justice" (R. 8A [1948], R.R.1:29-1 [1953], R. 1:33-3 [1969]((redesignated R. 1:33-6 [1983])), and R. 1:33-4 [1983]), that this summary treats.(22)

The term vicinage had been used for alignments of counties under a single Assignment Judge by 1965 (when the number of Assignment Judges was increased from 11 to 12) and was used as a convenient way of comparing statistical performance of the Assignment Judge districts (vicinages) beginning with the Annual Report for court year 1973-1974 (when new emphasis was placed on accountability in case management).(23) The term was used to describe the single or multi-county geographic areas over which the Assignment Judge has management authority in the court rules adopted in 1983 (when the new management structure was put in place).

The administrative responsibilities of the Assignment Judge were substantially elaborated, following years of discussion and debate, in the revisions of the court rules, effective September, 1969. Those revisions(24) provided that, subject to the direction of the Chief Justice, the duties of the Assignment Judge included:

"(1) supervision of all trial court judges ... and employees of or serving the trial courts in the county;"

(2) jury management;

(3) "supervision and expeditious movement of " calendars;(25)

(4) "implementation and enforcement of administrative rules, policies and directives ...;

(5) "the representation of the judicial branch of government in the county in all matters pertaining to the budgets, personnel and facilities of the trial courts of the county;

(6) "... such other functions and duties as may be assigned ..."

The Assignment Judge was also authorized to delegate, subject to the approval of the Chief Justice, "responsibilities, duties and functions to judges, officers and employees of the court." It was under this delegation of authority that administrative assistants to the Assignment Judge were appointed and eventually became trial court administrators.

Refinements in the performance of specific duties by the Assignment Judges, the strengthening of an administrative capacity through trial court administrators, burgeoning and more complex caseloads, and the appointment of Chief Justice Robert N. Wilentz and of Administrative Director Robert D. Lipscher opened new opportunities for system-wide improvement. By the early 1980's, the New Jersey Judiciary was positioned for a sequence of court administration changes made possible by almost forty years of development and visionary leadership.

In 1981 Chief Justice Wilentz appointed a Committee on Efficiency in the Operation of the Trial Courts (the Van Fossan Committee) to "study and make recommendations in the areas of organizational structure; reporting responsibilities; management effectiveness ... and relationships among units of the Trial Court System and county and State governments."(26) The report of the Committee concluded "that the system, as currently constituted, is not manageable. The present structure presents almost insurmountable barriers to effective leadership..."(27) Among the recommendations of the Committee on Efficiency were several involving the role of the Assignment Judge in vicinage operations. After urging that the position of the Assignment Judge be strengthened "by providing a clear definition of his managerial responsibilities at the trial court level" the Committee commented that "[t]he leadership potential of Assignment Judges has not yet been fully realized. In part, that is because the role expected of them has not been clearly defined."(28) With respect to the Trial Court Administrators, the Committee recommended delegation of "significant managerial authority to the Trial Court Administrator with respect to nonadjudicative aspects of the Trial Court System."

A National Center for State Courts report prepared in 1981 in support of the Committee on Efficiency noted that: "The reality is [in 1981] that the current structure has randomly evolved over decades without reference to the rational alignment of functions. The structure actually obscures functions."(29)

The National Center report continued by recommending that:

The executive component of the trial court system should be reshaped to establish control of court operations. Stated simply, the Assignment Judge should be the ultimate voice at the vicinage level in all matters of administrative policy; the Trial court Administrator should be a chief executive officer for implementing management policy in all areas of court operations...(30)

In response to the recommendations of the Committee on Efficiency (COE), Chief Justice Wilentz in late 1982 created the Management Structure Implementation Committee (the Lenox Committee). The Management Structure Committee agreed with the findings and recommendations of the Committee on Efficiency and, in turn, made several recommendations of its own including one on the vicinage structure.

[T]he trial courts [should] continue to be divided into manageable geographical and judicial areas for purposes of administration. These Divisions facilitate efficient supervision. The exact demarcation and number of such areas remains within the discretion of the Chief Justice. This flexibility will enable the Chief Justice over time to respond to such factors as population shifts and fluctuating caseloads.(31)

The Committee, commenting on proposed rule changes, wrote:

The responsibilities of the Assignment Judges presently [in 1983] are established by rule [1:33-3]. Since the committee recommends a change and an expansion of the Assignment Judge's responsibilities, the committee recommends greater rule clarity and specificity. This will implement the first recommendation of the Committee on Efficiency.

The Assignment Judge in his expanded role is central to the new management structure....[i]n the proposed structure, ultimate authority within the vicinage is centered in the Assignment Judge for all aspects of the trial courts. [emphasis in original.](32)

Those proposed rules were adopted by the Supreme Court, effective October, 1983. The new rules achieved the clarity and comprehensiveness urged by the committee, giving the Assignment Judge "plenary responsibility for all courts [within the vicinage], subject to the direction of the Chief Justice and the rules of the Supreme Court." As the authorized representative of the Chief Justice, the Assignment Judge is to see to "the efficient and economic management of all courts within the vicinage." Other specific grants of vicinage-wide authority include: (a) "implementation and enforcement of the rules, policies and directives of the Supreme Court, the Chief Justice and the Administrative Director," (b) "matters affecting county and municipal governments, including but not limited to budgets, personnel, and facilities,"(c) "supervision and efficient management of all court matters filed in the vicinage and for the supervision, superintendence and allocation of all judges and personnel having a judicial support function within the vicinage," (d) administration of all court units within the vicinage, including those of the Surrogate and the Deputy Clerk of the Superior Court," (e) "appoint and discharge judicial support personnel in the vicinage ['subject to minimum standards and conditions promulgated by the Administrative Director,']" and, (f) "such additional duties as shall be assigned by the Chief Justice or by rule of the Supreme Court."(33)

The rules also clarified the role of the Trial Court Administrator as "the administrative arm of the courts within the vicinage, under the direction of the Assignment Judge and the Administrative Director."(34) Duties of the Trial Court Administrator:

include the provision of technical and managerial support to the Assignment Judge and the Administrative Director with respect to budget development and expenditures, the supervision of all judicial support personnel, program development and analysis, facilities and resource management, the provision of such assistance as shall be necessary to such advisory committees to the courts as shall be appointed, and such additional administrative duties as shall be designated by the Administrative Director.(35)

Although the subject of the number of vicinages needed was discussed during the tenure of Chief Justice Hughes,(36) it was not until May, 1982 that the matter was formally considered on an agenda of the Chief Justice/Assignment Judges. After soliciting the views of the then 12 Assignment Judges, the Chief Justice determined that there should be a realignment of the twelve vicinages into fifteen vicinages. The Assignment Judges unanimously agreed that single county vicinages in the northern part of the State should remain unaffected. The realignment brought the following changes. (See Table 2.)

Table 2. Comparison of County Alignments from 12 to 15 Vicinages

Vicinage County Vicinage County
1 Atlantic

Cape May

Cumberland

Salem

1

Atlantic

Cape May

2 Bergen 2 Bergen
3

Burlington

Ocean

3 Burlington
4

Camden

Gloucester

4 Camden
5 Essex 5 Essex
6 Hudson 6 Hudson
7

Hunterdon

Mercer

Somerset

7 Mercer
8 Middlesex 8 Middlesex
9 Monmouth 9 Monmouth
10

Morris

Sussex

Warren

10

Morris

Sussex

11 Passaic 11 Passaic
12 Union 12 Union
13

Somerset

Hunterdon

Warren

14 Ocean
15

Gloucester

Cumberland

Salem

Until the vicinage management structure(37) was formally adopted in 1983, each of the 21 counties could have had an Assignment Judge whose responsibilities, in the early years, may not have been for contiguous counties. Assignment Judges are named from Superior Court judges and for many years several county benches had no Superior Court judge. Consequently, until the rules revisions in 1983 the responsibilities of the Assignment Judge were expressly county based. The explicit recognition of vicinages as trial court administrative localities coincided with the realignment of vicinages and the increase of the number of Assignment Judges from 12 to 15. In announcing the creation of the new vicinage alignment, the first in 17 years, the Chief Justice noted changes in population and caseload since the 1965 alignments were made. During a period which had seen "tripling caseloads as a result of dramatic population growth" the number of vicinages and Assignment Judges had remained constant." The Chief Justice added, "The realities of the court system ...require strong effective management and vicinages that are manageable in terms of size and composition ... this reorganization is designed to meet those requirements [and] the changes will increase court efficiency in all of the affected counties...."(38)

The executive or administrative role of the Assignment Judge is tied to the county or counties (and later vicinage) to which the Assignment Judge has been named. Consequently an Assignment Judge would travel periodically from a more- to a less-populous county to perform Assignment Judge duties, typically charging the grand jury, overseeing jury selection, and hearing actions in lieu of prerogative writs. Former Administrative Director Edward B. McConnell has noted that this was "not very efficient for management purposes."(39) For convenience, counties served by a single Assignment Judge were grouped together into entities which were not formally known as vicinages until 1983.(40) McConnell has reflected that during his tenure (1953-1973) "there was no magic in the number of vicinages ... as Administrative Director, [I] made recommendations to the Chief Justice that some counties fit together well. As the Assignment Judges increased their administrative roles there had to be enough counties to keep the Assignment Judges busy. There was no logic to the [vicinage configurations]; they evolved based on people [and] the ways some counties fit together geographically and culturally."

It is McConnell's opinion that a severe cut back in the number of vicinages (and Assignment Judges) would reduce the capacity to "do general administration in the counties -- grand juries, hearing tough cases, running the shop." Creating larger vicinages "would do the reverse of the current trend by increasing the layers ... would have to tell a number of people in the counties what to do or tell one judge who would tell other judges. Another layer [assuming some lower level administration is retained in each county] would create more confusion, more delay, and make the organization harder to run. Even if you could cut the number of Assignment Judges to 8-12 there would still have to be bosses in the counties." McConnell continued that the number of Assignment Judges should be such that the "Chief Justice and the Administrative Director can deal with them directly and reach consensus." He added that "from a management standpoint the size of the vicinage should not 'stress out' an Assignment Judge. How would someone in Essex County handle another county as well." On the other hand, McConnell added, "if there were an Assignment Judge in every county it would be a part-time post for most of them. Going to 21 Assignment Judges, it would be hard to get management consensus. Most of the policies have been adopted by the Chief Justice, Administrative Director, and Assignment Judges who work them out, play it by ear, reach consensus, and agree to them. "

According to McConnell, "too many vicinages [and Assignment Judges] would result in a management debating society for the Chief Justice and the Administrative Director. There should be the smallest number of vicinages where you don't have to start relaying decisions through another management level which, with larger vicinages, you would have to do. From the Chief Justice to the trial judge there should be the fewest number of people. You have to give the maximum authority to people on the ground."

McConnell summarized three basic principles to be considered in deploying Assignment Judges. These principles are: the capacity of a single person to manage the affairs of the vicinage, the capacity of the Chief Justice to maintain close contact with the Assignment Judges, and the determination to keep the number of management levels to a minimum. While it is desirable to keep the number of Assignment Judges down, the number should "not be so far down as to have [more work] than an Assignment Judge can handle."

Former Acting Administrative Director, Assignment Judge, and Appellate Division judge, Arthur J. Simpson, Jr., made several of the same points adding that "as Assignment Judge I had twice monthly meetings with all the judges of the vicinage. You need a decent relationship with the judges and good rapport with them. With too few vicinages you would spread the group even more." He continued saying, "the Assignment Judges do a lot of judicial work including charging the grand jury, hearing complex cases and matters in lieu of prerogative writs. For that reason you have to build up heavy trial court administrative support to get judges, including the Assignment Judges, on the bench. Simpson concluded by noting that "travel time and caseloads are also important determinants. For all these reasons the number of vicinages should be held as is [15], but study might be made to see if the system could function well today at twelve."(41)

Retired Supreme Court Justice Morris Pashman, who served as Assignment Judge in both the Passaic and Bergen vicinages, agreed with Judge Simpson that regular meetings with trial court judges, at least twice monthly are essential. He said that "discussions and meetings with judges are very commonplace ... personal contact with the judges is very important." He added that "the Assignment Judge can make or break the success of the vicinage .. Pay attention to the calendars and the movement of cases. The judges get the message from the Assignment Judge ... [who] sets the tone of behavior as far as judges are concerned." Concerning administrative activities, Justice Pashman noted that more counties in vicinages "would need far larger administrative staff." Even though the Freeholders no longer provide funding for the trial courts, the Assignment Judges "must maintain good relations with them because they provide the facilities and maintenance. With too many counties in a vicinage these contacts are more difficult to keep up." Justice Pashman suggested that although the number of vicinages might be reduced from 15 to thirteen or fourteen, that change would require an analysis not only of caseload, and time and distance to be traveled by the Assignment Judge, but also of the ability of the Assignment Judge to interact as necessary with the trial judges. He concluded by saying that "in a union of vicinages the result would be opposite of what is intended [greater efficiency and economy] by the loss of control, interaction, and the creation of an unwieldy system."(42)

Over the years the largest counties (Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Monmouth, Passaic, and Union) have been single county vicinages with a resident Assignment Judge. Realignments of the remaining counties have been made from time to time to adjust for counties "fitting well together." Gloucester, Salem, Cumberland, Ocean, Burlington, Warren, Hunterdon and Somerset, due to their size and location have been most affected by realignment and appear to have benefitted from the changes in their vicinage placement. Even those counties whose Assignment Judge "gave up" a county in the realignment may be said to have benefitted by having more time to devote to a single county vicinage or fewer counties.

Assignment Judges are actively involved with both adjudicative and administrative responsibilities. Large, single county vicinages have typically been faced with large caseloads, more numerous judges and court staff, and frequent, often difficult, relations with a single Board of Freeholders over budget, personnel and facilities issues. Assignment Judges in multi-county vicinages may not have had the same problems, but have problems of distance, coordination, constituency building, and multiple county Boards of Freeholders to challenge them. Some of these problems have abated, most have intensified.

Coordination of calendars, courts, constituencies, and county government services

As case volumes continue to grow, the courts have developed and implemented increasingly sophisticated case management techniques. With the adoption of individual calendars the former responsibilities of the Assignment Judge in the operation of the master calendar are substantially diminished. Case management duties continue, however, and in overseeing and coordinating expeditious case movement, the Assignment Judge is assisted by presiding judges of the several divisions, by the trial court administrator, and by the division managers. The ability of the Assignment Judges and other court managers to effectively oversee and monitor the inventory of cases and their movement has been refined by the installation of modern State-wide automated case tracking and management systems (FACTS, ACMS, Promis/Gavel(43)). Systems, both automated and manual, enable the Assignment Judges to monitor the status of inmates in the county jail or jails within the vicinage. Other automated systems allow for efficient management of personnel, purchase and property, and inventory.

Implementation of the Supreme Court approved operating standards in each of the divisions of the court is a responsibility of the Assignment Judge who is also expected to develop and carry out new initiatives designed to expedite case movement, including programs like differentiated case management (DCM) and the Civil Mediation Pilot project. The cultural differences among the vicinages make the personal intervention, leadership, and presence of the Assignment Judge to the effective promotion of these projects essential.

While much attention has properly focused on caseflow management, Assignment Judges are also engaged in implementing a host of innovative projects including volunteer initiatives, complementary dispute resolution programs, development of the State-wide personnel system and labor negotiations, and central fee collection. The time and attention needed to carry out these projects would be far more if an Assignment Judge had more counties to oversee.

Not only are cases and administration of the Superior Court subject to oversight by the Assignment Judge, but so are matters in the municipal courts of the vicinage. (See Table 3.) Growing case volume, closer connection of the municipal courts to the state-wide system of court administration brought about by the automated traffic system (ATS) and automated complaint system (ACS), and the newly established municipal court administrative structure with regional presiding judges all necessitate closer Assignment Judge involvement with those courts. The accessibility of the municipal courts to residents in hundreds of cities and towns in the state gives the assignment with a powerful entré to constituency building. The use of volunteers(44) in municipal and Superior Courts, under the direction of the Assignment Judges, has proven to be an effective way to gain and use community support for the entire Judiciary. Connecting to communities served particularly through the municipal courts and local volunteers is a new and demanding function of Assignment Judges in both single and multi-county vicinages.

Table 3. Number of Municipal Courts and Municipal Court Judges - 1995

Vicinage County

Number of Courts

Number of Municipal
Court Judges

1

Atlantic

Cape May

21

15

23

15

2 Bergen

71

73
3 Burlington 39 40
4 Camden 36 36
5 Essex 22 38
6 Hudson 12 24
7 Mercer 13 17
8 Middlesex 25 35
9 Monmouth 53 55
10

Morris

Sussex

39

18

40

18

11 Passaic 16 19
12 Union 21 26
13

Hunterdon

Warren

Somerset

14

18

21

14

18

22

14 Ocean 33 34
15

Cumberland

Gloucester

Salem

13

24

13

13

24

13

Statewide Total 537 487

Source: Dennis L. Bliss and Chris Hepner, Municipal Court Services Division, AOC, October 31, 1995. Explanatory note: The number of part-time judges, including temporary and additional judges, fluctuates, therefore "for statistical purposes the number of Municipal Court Judges in all categories, including full time judges, is 365. However, when the total number of judges is allocated by county [and vicinage] and municipal courts, because many of them hold several appointments in the same or different counties [or vicinages], the number of judges actually supervised by each Assignment Judge is as indicated in the [Table]. Therefore, statewide the 537 Municipal Courts have 600 Municipal Court Judges, in the aggregate...."

Distance and travel time are factors to be considered in a review of the vicinage structure and alignment. Although New Jersey cannot be considered a "rural" state, in many ways the time needed to move throughout the vicinages, even in urban centers, raises problems usually associated with rural jurisdictions.(45) Assignment Judges, especially in multi-county vicianges may travel to "outlying" counties to hear cases, meet with judges and staff, or exercise administrative oversight. The time needed to travel between county seats in multi-county vicinages or to municipal courts or satellite locations in single county vicianges can be significant even where the highway system is well developed. If more counties were to be placed within a smaller number of vicinages the travel demands would increase.

Until January 1, 1995, the effective date of state funding,(46) most personnel costs and other court support was provided by county government. Assignment Judges had to maintain close relations with the elected officials who controlled funding for court operations, for court support personnel, and for facilities. Relations with Freeholders and County Executives have been cordial, for the most part, over the years, but courts were often treated as another element of county government and not as a separate co-equal branch of government, the basic charge of which was under State level direction. In multi-county vicinages, Assignment Judges had to prepare several budgets, adapt to different personnel management procedures and salaries, and negotiate for building use needs with different county Boards of Freeholders. Central administration of vicinage affairs, given the different Boards and policies, posed problems of a different kind than those faced in single county vicinages. Although there has been a disengagement from the Freeholders for financing, a close working relationship continues because courts remain in county owned or provided facilities. This relationship remains prominent especially for work space, jury and visitor provisions, and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.(47) Connections must also continue with county government for security provided by the Sheriff(48) and services from the Office of the Surrogate.

The Assignment Judge not only is responsible for the day to day management of the vicinage, but also other important functions such as consultation with the Chief Justice and the Administrative Director, "mentoring" and acting as a role model and counsellor to other judges in the vicinage, maintaining connections with county government officials and the media, and building ties with the Bar and communities served. These are time consuming tasks which would be more difficult to carry out if the number of vicinages were reduced and the net of Assignment Judge duties widened to more counties than are within the current alignment.

The consultative role played by Assignment Judges is sometimes overlooked but it is an important one for the Chief Justice as administrative head of the court system in the development and implementation of State-wide uniform policy. Meeting with the Chief Justice about once a month, the Assignment Judges are able to alert the Chief Justice to problems, discuss solutions, and agree upon strategies. With the Assignment Judges, in conference and on committees, and with individual Assignment Judges, the Chief Justice can consult with dedicated, knowledgeable jurists who also have a sure sense of administrative possibilities around the State.

The late Chief Justice Arthur T. Vanderbilt recognized the administrative responsibilities of the Assignment Judge as both consultative and executive when he wrote:

[Assignment Judges] have provided the means not only of making invaluable recommendations throughout the year to the Supreme Court for improving administration, but also the means whereby administrative policies determined by the Supreme Court or the Chief Justice, as the case may be, can be put into actual operation at the county level and effectively supervised thereafter.(49)

As is expected of all effective managers, Assignment Judges must be able to lead and supervise personnel. The task of the Assignment Judges is especially difficult because they must not only work with the Trial Court Administrator in supervising court support personnel (see Table 4), but must also lead a cadre of judges (see Tables 5 and 6) who are expected to be independent professionals. The Assignment Judges follow judicial performance based on judicial performance evaluation reports, monitoring reserved decisions, and gauging production and demeanor. But individual trial court judges are more than producers, they are people who can be guided and helped to improve their performance and job satisfaction in what is often a very isolated profession. Assignment Judges by their own diligence and hard work offer an example to other judges, and are expected to serve as mentors, professional and personal, to judges within their vicinages.

Table 4. A Comparison of Court Support Personnel (Filled Positions) by Vicinage (1978-1995)

Vicinage County 1978 Vicinage County 1995
1 Atlantic

Cape May

Cumberland

Salem

199

77

116

62

1

Atlantic

Cape May

300

95

Vicinage Total 454 Vicinage Total 395
2 Bergen 453 2 Bergen 511
3

Burlington

Ocean

204

210

3 Burlington 273
Vicinage Total 414 Vicinage Total 273
4

Camden

Gloucester

432

135

4 Camden 583
Vicinage Total 567 Vicinage Total 583
5 Essex 978 5 Essex 1054
6 Hudson 453 6 Hudson 668
7

Hunterdon

Mercer

Somerset

61

279

190

7 Mercer 367
Vicinage Total 530 Vicinage Total 367
8 Middlesex 509 8 Middlesex 599
9 Monmouth 304 9 Monmouth 534
10

Morris

Sussex

Warren

244

55

55

10

Morris

Sussex

335

79

Vicinage Total 354 Vicinage Total 414
11 Passaic 498 11 Passaic 545
12 Union 455 12 Union 506
13

Hunterdon

Warren

Somerset

75

97

193

Vicinage Total 365
14 Ocean 321
15

Cumberland

Gloucester

Salem

177

288

70

Vicinage Total 475

State Total

5969

State Total

7610

Sources: William Druz and Robert Piscopo, A Judicial Personnel Merit System

For Unified and State Financed Court System for New Jersey, Phase 1.

March, 1978 (reported in, Final Report of the Supreme Court Committee on Efficiency in the Operation of the Courts of New Jersey, 1982, p.30, and Administrative Office of the Courts, Position Data as of 10/11/95 for Pay Period 21, Paid: 10/20/95.

Table 5. Number of Assigned Trial Court Judgeships, By Year, 1948-1995

(Including Superior Court, and the former County [until 1978], County District and Juvenile and Domestic Relations Courts [until 1983])

1948 n/a 1956 80 1964 132 1972 226 1980 255 1988 296
1949 51 1957 83 1965 136 1973 245 1981 262 1989 301
1950 50 1958 83 1966 157 1974 245 1982 277 1990 321
1951 50 1959 94 1967 192 1975 237 1983 271 1991 325
1952 49 1960 92 1968 201 1976 236 1984 284 1992 322
1953 55 1961 117 1969 204 1977 246 1985 280 1993 341
1954 62 1962 121 1970 207 1978 262 1986 281 1994 362
1955 76 1963 126 1971 210 1979 260 1987 284 1995 351

Table 6. Trial Judges Assigned (by Vicinage, County, and Selected Years) 1974-1996

Vicinage County 1974 1982 Vicinage County 1983 1996
1 Atlantic

Cape May

Cumberland

Salem

6

1

5

1

9

2

4

2

1

Atlantic

Cape May

15

3

17

4

Vicinage Total 13 17 Vicinage Total 18 21
2 Bergen 30 28 2 Bergen 27 28
3

Burlington

Ocean

8

6

9

10

3 Burlington 9 12
Vicinage Total 14 19 Vicinage Total 9 12
4

Camden

Gloucester

17

4

19

6

4 Camden 21 26
Vicinage Total 21 25 Vicinage Total 21 26
5 Essex 38 38 5 Essex 43 49
6 Hudson 24 21 6 Hudson 22 28
7

Hunterdon

Mercer

Somerset

2

10

5

2

13

6

7 Mercer 13 17
Vicinage Total 17 21 Vicinage Total 13 17
8 Middlesex 20 24 8 Middlesex 27 32
9 Monmouth 14 15 9 Monmouth 18 25
10

Morris

Sussex

Warren

10

2

2

12

2

2

10

Morris

Sussex

11

1

15

4

Vicinage Total 14 16 Vicinage Total 12 19
11 Passaic 18 20 11 Passaic 21 26
12 Union 21 21 12 Union 21 22
13

Hunterdon

Warren

Somerset

2

2

6

3

3

8

Vicinage Total 10 14
14 Ocean 10 16
15

Cumberland

Gloucester

Salem

4

6

2

7

10

2

Vicinage Total 12 19

State Total

244 265

State Total

278 354

Note: The years selected -- 1974, 1982, 1983, and 1996 -- mark a baseline year, the year prior to expansion of the number of vicinages, the year vicinages were increased from 12 to 15, and the Judicial assignments for the 1996 court year beginning September 1995, respectively.

1. The county, county district, and juvenile and domestic relations courts were abolished and the judges of those courts became Superior Court judges in 1978, 1983, and 1983, respectively.

2. Pollock and Maitland, History of English Law, Before the Time of Edward I, (Second edition), Volume 1, Book II, p. 622, (Cambridge: The University Press, 1899).

3. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England in Four Books, (Lewis Edition), II, Chapter 3, sec.33, (Philadelphia, Rees Welsh & Co., 1900).

4. Oxford English Dictionary, s.v., vicinage.

5. For a very useful capsule history of court reform in New Jersey, with bibliography, see, Final Report of the Supreme Court Committee on Efficiency in the Operation of the Courts of New Jersey, (1982), pp. 9-16.

6. See, for example, Johnson et al. v. Zink, 140 N.J. Eq. 255, 256 (1947). Courts also used the word in its community sense, see, State v. McCarthy, 2 N.J. Misc. 59, (1923).

7. Rules Governing the Courts of New Jersey, R. 1:28B, "Chancery Division Vicinages, Duplicate Files." "In the Chancery Division there shall be such vicinages consisting of one or more counties as shall be established by order of the Chief Justice." (Adopted June 27, 1958 to be effective September 3, 1958).

8. The term vicinage has been adopted in the federal bankruptcy rules. See, Rule 9, Assignment and Transfer of Cases. (U.S. Bankr. Ct.Rules D.N.J., 1995):

"(a) For purposes of the division of business, the Court shall be divided into three units known as 'vicinages,' which shall consist of the counties served by such units in the three federal courthouses in this District. The Newark vicinage consists of Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Morris, Passaic, Sussex counties and the townships of Union, Elizabeth, Springfield and Hillside located in Union County. The Trenton vicinage consists of Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, Somerset, Union, with the exception of the townships of Union, Elizabeth, Springfield and Hillside and Warren counties. The Camden vicinage consists of Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties."

9. See generally, American Bar Association, Judicial Administration Division, Standards of Judicial Administration, Volume II, Standards Relating toTrial Courts, (1992 Edition), Standard 2.33, Responsibilities of the Chief Judge.

10. See, American Bar Association, Judicial Administration Division, Standards of Judicial Administration, Volume 1, Standards Relating to Court Organization, (1990 Edition), Standard 1.12 (c).

Geographic districts. Where it is necessary to organize the trial court into separate geographic units, the following principles should be adhered to:

(i) Administrative efficiency. Geographic districts should be established on the basis of administrative efficiency, including consideration of the source of cases coming into court. As a matter of convenience the boundaries of court districts should ordinarily follow county boundaries, but should not be limited by them or required to correspond to provisions concerning venue....

(iv) Location of courts. Within a trial court district, branch courts may be located at subcenters selected by reason of their accessibility to litigants and counsel.

The Standard continues,

(d) Administrative responsibility for the trial court. The trial court should be subject to the management authority of the court system's central administration, exercised by the chief justice, acting through an administrative office of courts. The trial court should have a chief judge and a court administrator and the responsibilities of each should be delineated. Where the trial court is divided into geographic districts, there should be a chief judge and court administrator for each district.

See also, Commentary to Standard 1.12 (c), p.26-27. See also, for example, Ill. Rev. Stat., ch. 37, par. 72.1 wherein three circuits, Cook County (Chicago) and the 12th [Will County] and 18th [DuPage County], consist of a single county. The other 19 circuits are composed of two or more contiguous counties. There are 102 counties in Illinois.

11. The Superior Court is a court of general jurisdiction in which judges may be assigned to the Appellate Division, or one of the several trial divisions -- criminal, civil, chancery, or family.

12. R. A8, Assignment Judge (Effective September 15, 1948).

13. E.g., Rules 3:23-8 and 3:24

14. R. 1:33-2 (e).

15. R. 4:69

16. R. 1:33-2 (d) (2).

17. R. 1:7-3 (c) (2), (Effective September 15, 1948).

18. R. A8 (1948).

19. R. 1:33-4 (a).

20. R. 1:33-4(c).

21. R. 2:4-1 et seq. (Effective September 15, 1948).

22. See, Raymond Del Tufo, Jr., "A Study in Judicial Administration: The Assignment Judge in New Jersey," Rutgers L. Rev. Vol. XV, No. 2, (1961), PP. 179-197.

23. "Annual Report of the Administrative Director of the Courts, 1973-1974," Table: Total Cases Added, Trial Courts by Counties of Assignment Judges' Vicinages, Supreme Court and Appellate Division of the Superior Court (Court Years 1968-1969 to 1973-1974), p. xix. It is unclear from the Table whether, for strict comparison purposes, the counties in a vicinage in 1973-1974 were the same as they were in court year 1968-1969.

24. R. 1:33-3.

25. Detailed language in R.R. 1:31-1 concerning the role of the Assignment Judge on integrated civil calendars was not carried into the 1969 revision. But see, R.1:33-5 (1990) for the case coordination duty of the trial court administrator and R.1:33-6 (1990) for the case management responsibilities of presiding judges of functional units.

26. Robert Van Fossan (chairman), Final Report of the Supreme Court Committee on Efficiency in the Operation of the Trial Courts, (1982), p.1.

27. Id., at p. 104.

28. Id.

29. Samuel D. Conti, Robert Tobin, Improved Management and Organization of Court Support Services in New Jersey, Synthesis Volume, North Andover, MA, May 20, 1981, p.8.

30. Id., p. 33. For earlier comments on the role of the TCA in vicinage administration see, generally, Samuel D. Conti and James A. Gainey, "Administrative Office of the Courts: A Study," State Court Journal, National Center for State Courts, Williamsburg, VA, volume 4, Number 3, Summer 1980, p. 23. The article summarizes, An Organizational and Management Study of the Administrative Office of the Courts, State of New Jersey, National Center for State Courts, March, 1980.

31. Honorable Samuel D. Lenox, Jr., chairman, "Final Report of the Management Structure Committee," (reprint, N.J. Law Journal, August 4, 1983, p.3)

32. Id.

33. R. 1:33-4 (a), (b), (c), (d), (e), [former rule redesignated R.1:33-6 October 26, 1983, to be effective immediately; paragraphs (a), (b), (e), and (f) were amended June 29, 1990, to be effective September 4, 1990.

34. R. 1:33-5 (a).

35. Id.

36. Interview with former Acting Administrative Director Arthur J. Simpson, Jr., October 23, 1995. In addition to serving as Acting Director, Judge Simpson also served on the Appellate Division and as Assignment Judge in the Bergen and Camden/Gloucester vicinages.

37. See, Robert D. Lipscher, Directive #9-90, (October 18, 1990), for the approved Vicinage Table of Organization. The directive provides that "the Assignment Judge is the chief executive officer of the vicinage, responsible for overall vicinage affairs. The Trial Court Administrator is the chief operating officer. Together they form an executive component." The directive also describes the team structure of vicinage management to include presiding judges, division managers, and assistant trial court administrators. The directive was based, in part, on research contained in a report entitled, "Key Managers in the Trial Court Support System," Administrative Office of the Courts, September 1990.

38. Chief Justice Robert N. Wilentz, Press Release, Administrative Office of the Courts, July 26, 1982.

39. Telephone interview with former Administrative Director Edward B. McConnell on October 10, 1995.

40. See, "Annual Report of the Administrative Director of the Courts, 1983," p. 19.

41. See above, note 36.

42. Interview with retired Justice Morris Pashman, October 23, 1995.

43. FACTS is the Family Automated Case Tracking System; ACMS is the Automated Case Management System used for the Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Tax Court, and for civil matters; Promis/Gavel is the automated criminal case processing system.

44. See, New York Times, Sunday, October 29, 1995, New Jersey Section, p.8, for a brief description of the extensive volunteer program.

45. See, E. Keith Stott, Jr., Theodore J. Fetter, Laura Crites, Rural Courts: The Effect of Space and Distance on the Administration of Justice, (Denver, Co., National Center for State Courts) 1977, pp. xv, 35 [expanded use of technology].

46. See, Constitutional amendment on State funding, passed on November 3, 1992; enactment of the State Judicial Unification Act (P.L. 93, c.275; A-1529/A-2266) on December 6, 1993; and enactment of the Judicial Employees Unification Act (P.L. 94, c. 162; S-1548/A-2381) on December 19, 1994.

47. The Americans with Disabilities Act, Public Law 101-336, July 26, 1990; 42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq.

48. State Court Security Committee (created Autumn, 1983), Judge I.V. DeMartino, chairman.

49. Vanderbilt, Record of the New Jersey Courts, 10 Rutgers L. Rev. 397, 400 (1955).

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