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Trenton mayor's 3 judicial nominees rejected

By Cristina Rojas | For
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on February 18, 2016 at 11:04 PM, updated February 19, 2016 at 1:03 PM

TRENTON -- Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson sought to shake up the municipal court by replacing three of the city's four judges, but City Council rejected his choices over concerns about the process and the non-reappointments of respected judges.

The mayor had tapped Judge Rodney Thompson, the only holdover, to become the new chief judge and council gave him unanimous approval.

But his other three choices -- Emilia Perez, William Sitzler and Geraldine Eure -- were voted down. Council President Zachary Chester and Councilwoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson were the only two who voted in favor of all of the judges.

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"When it comes to advice and consent, it's not just you present and we consent," Councilman Alex Bethea said. "We have the responsibility that when we feel your recommendations are not in the best interest of this city, we need to step up."

Jackson said the terms of the sitting judges -- Thompson, Harold George, John McCarthy and Gregory Williams -- expired last June and it was his prerogative to either re-appoint the judges or appoint new ones.

"Each of the judges served with distinction and served the city well," Jackson said.

But he wanted to bring on three new faces to create a more diverse bench and chose his nominees from a field of 17 candidates.

Advice and consent was twice-delayed, once to make sure the candidates were 100 percent vetted and a second time following the death of Jackson's mother.



Trenton judicial appointments delayed until next month

The mayor is now expected to come Feb. 2 and City Council would then vote on Feb. 4


During Thursday's meeting, the mayor said City Council's responsibility was to review the nominees and decide whether or not they were qualified.

"I'm to bring qualified people," he said following the votes. "None of you have said these individuals aren't qualified. You haven't said that tonight."

Several council members, however, said the administration was not forthcoming with all of the candidates' backgrounds and were upset that they were only allowed to review the files in City Hall.

"What I expect from you is to have full openness with me and give me the documents so I can look through them and feel comfortable that I'm actually going to vote for someone that's going to sit on the bench and cast judgement and make decisions for people that come before them," Councilwoman Marge Caldwell-Wilson said.

Councilman George Muschal said with the backlog of court cases, the city would benefit from adding judges to the current bench and opening up the two vacant police stations to use as courtrooms.

"We need you. We definitely need you. I'm not against you. The problem is ... council did not receive the information," he said.

Trenton attorney Dwaine Williamson also advocated for the city to expand the number of judges.

"I personally think that institutional knowledge is necessary for this court to function properly," he said. "I have no problem with the other appointees ... but this backlog can only get worse if you don't have the judges that have the knowledge of how to keep the number of cases moving and moving quickly."

Bethea expressed concerns that George and Williams would be replaced by Perez and Eure, who have no prior experience as judges -- though the mayor said that George, too, was once new to the bench.

Resident Bill Watson applauded the work of the sitting judges, but urged council to now look at the character and qualifications of the candidates the mayor brought forward.

"None of us have lifetime rights to any position and because we're being replaced does not mean we've done anything improper or not of high standard," he said. "Judges George and Williams represented the past. The mayor is presenting you the future. Please respect that."

Others said the court would suffer if three-quarters of the judges were replaced all at once.

"If I had the option of replacing 75 percent of my home -- the bones are strong, the foundation is good, it's been through many hurricanes -- I elect not to replace but keep going in that direction," resident Ed Bullock said.

City activist Lee Ingram said the community has built relationships with the sitting judges and would now be forced to start over.

"We don't know these people. We don't know what to expect," he said, adding that the way George and Williams ran their courtrooms balanced each other out. "We liked that balance.

"I don't want you to base your vote on the race card," he continued. "I don't want you to base your vote on someone being a woman because people's lives are on the line."

Still others spoke in favor of Perez and Eure.

Perez, who has served in the City of Newark's law department since 2008, was endorsed by the Latino Action Network, the Latino Civic Forum and the Latino Merchants Association because in a city with a large Latino population, the court would now better reflect the residents it serves.

Several praised Eure's character, legal experience and commitment to the city after Muschal brought up an issue dating back to her time on the city's school board.

She served from 1993 until 2007 when she was not reappointed by former Mayor Doug Palmer. She was one of several members who had voted against seeking legal advice when allegations of falsified student records surfaced in March 2006.

"That vote was not to not investigate," Eure said. "The vote was not to go into executive session because people had not been RICE'd. If you do something that you're not supposed to do, what impact would that have on the subsequent investigation and what impact would that have on the person?"

The final nominee was Sitzler, whose now-defunct law firm Saponaro and Sitzler has had contracts with the city and who has served as Trenton's special counsel for alcoholic beverage control matters since 2011. Last June, he returned to solo practice and was appointed as a judge in Mount Holly.

Jackson said he planned to talk with each of the council members on Friday and see what needs to be done.

Cristina Rojas may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @CristinaRojasTT. Find The Times of Trenton on Facebook.

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Bergenfield woman sues Fairleigh Dickinson overing nursing program

Bergenfield woman sues Fairleigh Dickinson overing nursing program




A Bergenfield woman has filed suit against Fairleigh Dickinson University, claiming the school misled her and others in advertising that students could complete a doctorate of nursing practice program within two years.

The suit by Marsha Oliver claims that just two of 21 students who started the program in 2007 graduated by 2009.

Oliver claims that the university, in Teaneck, lacked qualified and competent staff and failed to provide advertised resources, such as access to a writing center. The suit claims the two-year completion time cited in advertisements and the student handbook constituted a contract between the university and students enrolled.

The university declined comment on the suit as did Oliver’s attorney, Dwaine Williamson of Trenton. The suit, filed in Bergen County in August, seeks compensatory damages for tuition paid and emotional distress the plaintiff claims to have suffered.

Generally degree completion times vary. For instance, the federal government now uses a six-year measure for so called four-year undergraduate degrees. Even so, less than half of students nationally graduate within six years. Students fare somewhat better in New Jersey where about two-thirds complete degrees within six years, according to figures from the federal government.



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Countdown to Mack corruption trial - 35 days: City attorney weighs in on Mack's trial



By Shaheed M. Morris, For The Trentonian


Monday, December 2, 2013



TRENTON — With one month and a few days left until Trenton Mayor Tony F. Mack’s public corruption trial begins, the mayor’s defense took a major blow when U.S. District Judge Michael A. Shipp denied the defense’s request to toss out all wiretap evidence.

Mark G. Davis, a court-appointed attorney representing the mayor, filed several pretrial motions, but out of the 14 he submitted only a few went in his favor. Judge Shipp denied four motions; two were deferred to a later date.

This is Davis’ first time representing an elected official on corruption charges in federal court. In an interview with The Trentonian in his South Broad Street office, Dwaine A. Williamson, a local criminal defense attorney, said Davis’ inexperience in federal court won’t be an issue.

“Davis isn’t as green as people keep saying,” Williamson said. “There’s not much of a difference in state cases compared to federal cases besides the laws. Davis is an extremely smart guy and will do everything possible to give the mayor adequate representation.”

When asked if a possible last minute plea deal could be in the works between the defense and government, Williamson said: “A plea deal is always on the table. There’s usually a plea cutoff date before a trial date is set. A judge can overrule the cutoff date, but I strongly believe this case will go to trial.”

The mayor’s attorney stated publicly that the federal prosecutors approached the mayor in January 2011 to become a cooperating witness, but the mayor “blew them off.”

Williamson explained why the mayor may have passed on the offer.

“The feds don’t like to go to trial,” Williamson said. “They run the risk of losing a case. The feds like to bully people with their strong-arm tactics. They will continue to make a plea deal look more enticing.”

Asked what he believes is the best defense scenario for the mayor since the majority of the government’s alleged evidence will stand.

“The defense must be able to put forth a strong and persuasive story to cast some doubt in the jurors’ minds to get a deadlocked jury,” Williamson said. “The defense must win this case in the jury selection.”

Responding to whether or not the race card or an entrapment defense could play a role in the mayor’s trial, he said.

“The race card may come up if it will benefit the client, depending on the demographics of the jury,” Williamson said. “Entrapment defenses are too risky. Even with the government setting up the scheme with a phony developer.”

Williamson offered an inside look on what federal prosecutors will argue.

“The feds will try to overwhelm the jury with their evidence and video surveillance in opening arguments,” he said. “They will spend hours preparing their witnesses.”

As for the defense, Williamson said. “The defense must craft their message into something the jurors can see or hear to counter the government’s large amount of alleged evidence.”

Williamson continued, “In the end, jurors will look at the evidence. The job of a good trial attorney is to poke holes in the government’s argument, and try to sway one juror. It’s all about playing to the jury at this stage.”

However, he said, “The mayor has an uphill battle. I’m sure the mayor’s attorney has some hidden weapons.”

Jury selections will begin on Jan. 6, 2014.

The Trentonian will continue its in-depth coverage leading up to the mayor’s corruption trial during and after. For the latest coverage, check out the countdown updates every day.




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Dwaine Williamson