Christie Courts Criticism With Judicial Nomination

TRENTON — Bar Association President Ralph Lamparello criticized Gov. Chris Christie for deciding to deny tenure to state Supreme Court Justice Helen Hoens as a threat to the judiciary’s independence while the matter appears to be turning into a political football.

“[Justice Hoens] does not deserve to be treated as a political pawn in the battle between the Governor and the Legislature over our Courts,” Lamparello said. “The result of today’s action will be further erosion of the independence of our courts, whose role as the third branch of government is to balance the other two branches and to protect the rights of the citizens of this state.”

Christie claimed that a Union County lawmaker is largely responsible for his decision after the Star-Ledger‘s Auditor column reported that state Sen. Raymond Lesniak said Democrats should reject Hoens if the governor re-nominated the Republican justice for lifetime tenure.

Lesniak responded saying Christie “gave me way too much credit,” according to a story posted on the website.

“There has to be a price paid for what he did,” said Lesniak, referring to the governor’s 2010 dismissal of Justice John Wallace Jr., a Democrat and only African-American on the high court. “This guy plays hardball. I’m sorry. The only way to play against someone who plays hardball is to play hardball right back.”

Lesniak is one of 13 members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The seven-member Supreme Court has two vacancies now and Democrats will not hold hearings on the governor’s pending nominees, Robert Hanna, president of the Board of Public Utilities, and Superior Court Judge David Bauman. Christie nominated Faustino Fernandez-Vina, a Cuban immigrant, to replace Hoens.

The Senate Judiciary Committee rejected two other nominees Christie sought to appoint.

“There’s no doubt she was going to have difficulty because her opinions on the bench showed absolutely no independence from the governor’s views,” said Lesniak, adding however that “it was presumptuous to think she would not have been reconfirmed.”

Christie hoped to reshape the state Supreme Court to eliminate obstacles to Republican policy initiatives transforming public school funding and affordable housing as well as other long simmering issues.

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