IN RE: VICINAGE 13 OF THE NEW JERSEY SUPERIOR COURT; WARREN COUNTY OFFICE OF THE PROSECUTOR;NEW JERSEY OFFICE OF THE PUBLIC DEFENDER, WARREN REGION; WARREN COUNTY BOARD OF CHOSEN FREEHOLDERS
Submitted November 29, 2017
appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division,
Middlesex County, Docket No. L-1806-12.
E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant New
Jersey Office of the Public Defender (Karl R. Keys, Deputy
Public Defender, of counsel and on the brief).
and Shivas, PC, attorneys for respondent County of Warren
(Joseph J. Bell, IV, and Brian C. Laskiewicz, on the brief).
Richard T. Burke, Warren County Prosecutor, attorney for
respondent State of New Jersey (Kelly Anne Shelton, Assistant
Prosecutor, of counsel and on the brief).
Judges Alvarez, Nugent, and Geiger.
ALVAREZ, P.J.A.D JUDGE.
Jersey Office of the Public Defender (OPD) appeals from an
April 29, 2016 declaratory judgment finding Courtroom No. 2
in the Warren County Courthouse to be constitutionally
adequate for the conduct of criminal jury trials. We now
reverse and remand. We also suggest the assignment judge of
Middlesex County, to whom the matter had been transferred for
decision, consider appointing a special master, pursuant to
Rule 4:41-1, to make findings and recommendations before
rendering a decision.
case has an unusual procedural history. It commenced in 2011,
when a Warren County public defender objected to conducting a
criminal trial in newly renovated Courtroom No.
2.His objection was overruled, and the matter
proceeded to conclusion. On February 6, 2012, a second case
was scheduled to be heard in the courtroom, and this time,
the trial judge granted the motion to move the trial
elsewhere. That judge described in detail problems with the
design, including obstructions to a defendant's view of
the witness stand and the jury box. The judge determined that
the courtroom was constitutionally inadequate.
February 9, 2012, the Warren County Prosecutor's Office
(prosecutor's office) filed a motion before the Warren
County assignment judge, seeking to vacate the trial
judge's order barring the use of Courtroom No. 2.
Meanwhile, a third application was made to stay a criminal
trial in that courtroom. The Warren County assignment judge
consolidated the matters and transferred them for hearing
before the assignment judge of Middlesex County. The
prosecutor's office then filed a verified complaint and
order to show cause in that vicinage. The OPD removed the
matter to federal court; it was remanded back to state court
on June 20, 2012. The case, captioned "In re Vicinage
13, " thereafter languished.
interim, Warren County filed separate litigation concerning
the courtroom, which was settled with the Administrative
Office of the Courts (AOC) in September 2015.After the parties
agreed to certain renovations, the action was dismissed. In
March 2016, for reasons not included in the record on appeal,
Warren County moved for declaratory judgment pursuant to the
Declaratory Judgment Act (DJA), N.J.S.A. 2A:16-50 to
-62.The matter bore the docket number of the
prior--by then inactive- -proceeding. It was the outcome of
the DJA application that resulted in the order now appealed.
to that decision, the assignment judge to whom the matter had
been transferred ruled that the OPD lacked standing to
participate. Acknowledging New Jersey's expansive view of
the doctrine, the judge nonetheless reached this conclusion
because the OPD did not represent a specific individual whose
trial was currently scheduled in the courtroom.
the court reasoned that even if the OPD had standing, the
modifications agreed to in 2015 in the Vicinage 13 action
between Warren County and the AOC corrected the six courtroom
defects identified by the trial judge in 2012. The assignment
judge based his determination in part on the representations
of an architect the judge had designated for that purpose.
certification from an OPD attorney, however, stated that not
only were the constitutional issues with the courtroom
unresolved, the settlement agreement called for modifications
that were not completed. The attorney alleged that the
alterations to the courtroom made it more cosmetically
functional but failed to: correct line of sight issues,
provide the space necessary for a criminal trial, and
increase the available seats in the courtroom- -meaning that,
overall, the space was inadequate for jury selection as well
as for public attendance.
raises the following points for our consideration:
THE PUBLIC DEFENDER HAS ...