While the pandemic continues to impact individuals and businesses, efforts to bring a sense normalcy back to daily life are apparent across the state. One such effort is the reopening of New Jersey Courts. While this is happening, the reopening is occurring slowly.
Back in June, 2020 a three phase plan was instituted by the Administrative Office of the courts. Phase One was to have fully remote operations. While Phases Two and Three had gradual increase in the number of judges and staff who would be permitted on site. Phase Two was capped at 10 – 15% while Phase Three permitted 50-75 % of judges and staff to return. However, the judiciary found it necessary to amend their original plan and institute Phase 2.5 which permitted a maximum of 25% of judges and staff to return. We currently remain in Phase 2.5 and there is no set date for Phase Three to take effect.
Phases 1 through 2.5 have seen matters such as simple matrimonial trials, chancery and probate matters be conducted by zoom or similar virtual platforms. A handful of civil jury trials have also been able to have been conducted statewide. A new directive allows for criminal and civil jury selection and trials on site while allowing judges to use their discretion to bring in matters into their courtrooms.
All this is good news in that we are gradually reopening safely. The question that the reopening of New Jersey courts asked by litigants seeking relief is, “Does this mean I will get my day in court soon?” The short answer is not yet. It is likely that you will not get your day in court for years. This is because of many factors including the fact that there is a two-year backup of cases waiting to be tried. Very importantly the number of judges is well below full staffing needed to hear the backlog of cases along with new cases being filed daily. Those points coupled with the recent announcement that the Courts plan to move forward on hearing thousands of landlord tenant cases statewide which need to be addressed.
As is often said ‘Justice delayed is justice denied.” If you are owed money as a result of a business venture you are already feeling that pain. Worse yet your family may be in turmoil waiting a judicial decision on custody or support. If you are waiting for your day in court for any civil; chancery or probate matter you may be well advised to select private mediation with a retired judge as an alternative to seeking relief in the courts through traditional litigation. You will save both money and time. With mediation you and your adversary will work to come to an agreement. Another alternative is private arbitration where the mediator will resolve the issues. Admittedly there is a cost for these private services, but it will be much less that the cost of waiting years to have your matter decided by a court.
After 26 years on the bench, six as the Family Part Presiding and six as the Presiding Judge of Probate and Chancery I am well positioned to deal with the myriad of issues that face all litigants. I invite you to call me to discuss how your case would proceed at private mediation or arbitration.