In response to concerns expressed by practitioners, the New Jersey State Bar Association (NJSBA) reached out to state officials about municipal court issues. In a trio of letters, the organization asked for uniformity in plea-by-mail processes, information on expansion of a municipal court portal, a central repository for municipal prosecutor information and priority for ignition interlock services.
The NJSBA wrote to the New Jersey chief justice, governor and state attorney general with its concerns.
“The plea-by-mail process is confusing, inconsistently applied, does not effectively permit the disposal of many municipal court matters, and does not meet the notification requirements concerning potential immigration consequences,” NJSBA President Kimberly A. Yonta wrote in a letter to Chief Justice Stuart Rabner asking for a uniform, interactive form that would be accepted in all municipal court
She also asked for additional information about an effort to expand the current municipal court public portal that allows people charged with certain offenses to pay tickets online. The NJSBA contends it has not been included in discussions about the plans for expansion of the portal, and practitioners have many questions, including whether attorneys will have access to it. Currently, defendants cannot use the online portal if they are represented by counsel.
One of the chief concerns about both plea-by-mail and expansion of the online portal is the potential consequences for certain immigrant defendants. The NJSBA urged that any plea-by-mail forms and the resolution of any municipal court matter include a reference to potential immigration consequences as a result of the action, and ensure there has been an opportunity for a defendant to explore those potential consequences.
Yonta noted the lack of a current roster of municipal prosecutors as another issue interfering with the resolution of municipal court cases. In a letter to Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal asking for a central listing of prosecutors, Yonta wrote, “This has become an important, necessary resource for defendants, defense attorneys and other involved parties to address pending municipal court matters during the COVID-19 shutdown.” She also suggested that, consistent with its oversight of municipal prosecutors, the Attorney General’s Office should provide state email addresses through which municipal prosecutors can conduct municipal business separate from their private law firm business. This would have the added benefit of allowing future prosecutors to have all of the relevant background information about the current status of a pending matter.
Access to motor vehicle offices for defendants requiring interlock ignition systems was the subject of a letter from Yonta to Governor Phil Murphy. Acknowledging the opening of state offices in early June, Yonta asked that certain services be prioritized.
“The extended closure of MVC offices…has prevented individuals from getting ‘chipped’ and obtaining the requisite embossed license,” she wrote, noting without those services, defendants are unable to drive, and the state does not gain the benefit of the safety assurances the interlock is meant to provide.
The full text of the letters can be viewed at njsba.com.
This is a status report provided by the New Jersey State Bar Association on recently passed and pending legislation, regulations, gubernatorial nominations and/or appointments of interest to lawyers, as well as the involvement of the NJSBA as amicus in appellate court matters. To learn more, visit njsba.com.