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Key Developments

  • 1/28/19 - The New Jersey Supreme Court recently ordered the dismissal of more than 780,000 minor municipal court matters older than 15 years, including parking tickets and some minor traffic violations. The effort was designed in part to help address the problem of mounting court debt or fines and fees which have created access to justice issues for many, most particularly those of low-income statewide.
  • 1/8/19 - In the Matter of Expungement of the Arrest/Charge Records of T.B. (A-18/19/20-17) (079813) (decided January 8, 2019), the New Jersey Supreme Court held that successful drug court graduates presumptively meet the “public interest” when the court considers their expungement applications under N.J.S.A. 2C:35-14(m).  Additionally, they are not required to provide copies of all relevant transcripts and reports otherwise required under In re Kollman for those convicted of third or fourth degree drug sale or distribution offenses.

    In these consolidated cases, three separate drug court graduates sought review of appellate division determinations which denied their applications for expungement under N.J.S.A. 2C:35-14(m).  The applicants had all previously pled guilty to third degree drug sale offenses, and the appellate courts held that they were required to meet the “public interest” -- a standard which applies to petitioners with such convictions before their petitions could be granted.  This standard is imported into the drug court expungement statute by explicit language.  As per N.J.S.A. 2C:35-14(m), “a person shall not be eligible for expungement . . . if the records include a conviction for any offense barred from expungement pursuant to subsection b or c of N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2.”

    Under subsection c of N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2, “in the case of conviction for the sale or distribution of a controlled dangerous substance or possession thereof with intent to sell, expungement shall be denied except where the crimes involve . . . any controlled dangerous substance provided that the conviction is of the third or fourth degree, where the court finds that expungement is consistent with the public interest, giving due consideration to the nature of the offense and the petitioner's character and conduct since conviction.” (emphasis added).

    To be sure, meeting the “public interest” is an additional burden on applicants, and can be a heavy lift for drug court graduates who may have multiple such offenses and would otherwise have been entitled to an “expedited” expungement process.  The Supreme Court in Kollman previously held that applicants bear the burden of proof in public interest expungements and that they are additionally required to submit pre-sentence investigation reports and trial and sentencing transcripts to the expungement court in addition to their petitions.

    Before the Supreme Court, petitioners and amicus argued that the additional requirement of meeting the public interest was an undue additional burden on drug court expungement petitioners who had already been through an unusually rigorous court-ordered program of rehabilitation and that the statute could be interpreted to not require as drug offenses are not completely “barred” from expungement and therefore not subject to the expungement prohibition. 

    Ultimately, given the additional burden on what should be an expedited application, the exceptional nature and the rigor of the drug court program, the likelihood that the court is already very familiar with and has ready access to criminal case records of drug court graduates, the Supreme Court held that it shall be presumed that expungement is consistent with the public interest if the person seeking expungement has been discharged upon graduation from a term of drug court and that they are not required to provide additional documents per in re Kollman.

  • 10/20/17 - The 2017 National Celebration of Pro Bono begins this Sunday (October 22). Continuing through October 28, this celebration is a series of opportunities and events highlighting the wide range of pro bono activities cooperatively undertaken by legal service providers, law firms, corporations, individual lawyers and others helping those in need of legal assistance.

    For many attorneys in New Jersey, pro bono is not limited to one annual, weekly celebration, but is a long term commitment of their energy, enthusiasm, talent, training and time. They understand the professional responsibility of RPC 6.1, “to render public interest legal service” and have incorporated it into their practice. Their contributions to secure equal justice for those who are not otherwise able to afford legal help is exemplary, upholding the highest ideals of our profession.

    For those new to pro bono, the National Celebration is the perfect opportunity to discover what so many of your colleagues already have, the sense of satisfaction and accomplishment derived from providing pro bono legal assistance. By doing so, you can help close the “justice gap”, the gap between low income individuals who need and financially qualify for legal assistance and those who actually receive such help. That gap is widening; too many individuals and families cannot have their legal needs met because there are too few lawyers and other resources available to meet them.

    The National Celebration is a time when the entire legal community can join together in a mutually supportive effort to offer legal assistance to those otherwise unable to afford it. To this end, Legal Services of New Jersey invites you to partner with programs in the statewide Legal Services network to provide pro bono assistance to our respective clients. Doing so can be a life affirming professional experience, and a life changing event for a client in need. All are beneficiaries.

  • 4/20/17 - The New Jersey Administrative Office of the Courts has issued Directive #03-17 establishing a process and criteria for waivers of filing fees. A Supreme Court Order accompanying the Directive specifies that fees are waivable for indigent litigants whose household income does not exceed 150% of the federal poverty level and who have no more than $2500 in liquid assets. The Directive contains a uniform fee waiver application that is to be used for all fee waiver requests in the Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Superior Court and Tax Court.

    The Directive further specifies that Legal Services of New Jersey, its associated regional legal services programs, and other public interest organizations and programs certified pursuant to R. 1:21-11 for fee waiver status are exempt from filing fees. Accordingly, neither they nor their clients are required to file for a fee waiver in individual cases.

  • 8/9/16 - The New Jersey Supreme Court has revised the Code of Judicial Conduct, effective September 1, 2016. In a Notice to the Bar issued by the AOC, the revisions “set more clearly defined guidelines for avoiding the appearance of impropriety in both judicial and personal conduct” and “a more detailed guide for judicial disqualifications.” Of particular significance to the pro bono community is new Canon 4, Rule (D) (4) - A judge may encourage lawyers to provide pro bono legal services. There is no official commentary to this rule.

  • 7/26/16 - In the Matter of the Adoption of a Child by J.E.V. and D.G.V. - In a case of first impression in New Jersey, the N.J. Supreme Court has determined that indigent parents who face termination of parental rights in contested proceedings under the Adoption Act, N.J.S.A. 9:3-37 to -56, are entitled to counsel under Article I, Paragraph 1 of the State Constitution. The Court held that an indigent parent who faces termination of parental rights in a contested private adoption proceeding has a right to appointed counsel under the due process guarantee of the New Jersey Constitution. In so holding, the Court reaffirmed earlier decisions that the termination of one’s parental rights plainly “implicates a fundamental liberty interest” by completely and permanently severing the tie between parent and child. The Court recognized that without the assistance of counsel to prepare for and participate in the hearing, the risk of an erroneous outcome is high. Accordingly, the parties are best served when both sides present arguments with the help of able attorneys; the outcome not only protects the parent’s rights and the child’s welfare, but also helps bring finality to an adoption proceeding. The Court’s decision follows other states which have also found that an indigent parent is entitled to counsel in a private adoption matter, based on either due process principles under their state constitutions or applicable statutes. With regard to when the appointment of counsel arises, the Court said the critical event in the timeline occurs when the parent formally objects to the adoption agency’s decision to proceed toward adoption. Finally, because of the complicated nature of termination proceedings the Court emphasized the need for the appointment of attorneys with the experience to handle these matters, such as those in the Office of Parental Representation in the Public Defender’s Office. But noting that office’s current lack of funding, the Court declined to order it to take on these cases calling instead on the Legislature to address this issue. In the interim, however, the Court said it would turn to private counsel for assistance, inviting pro bono organizations to offer their services and suggesting that it “may need to assign counsel through the Madden list,” although that “is not an ideal solution.”

  • 5/27/16 - The Administrative Office of the Courts has promulgated new procedures to implement changes in the expungement law which cover Drug Court expungements and expungement of arrests that did not lead to conviction.

  • 2/3/16 - All certified pro bono service organizations must annually file a renewal certification with the New Jersey Judiciary by April 30th. For currently certified organizations, the online renewal application is now available on the pro bono portal of the Judiciary’s website. There is a link to the renewal application from the site; it can also be directly accessed at the Judiciary's Pro Bono Search Organization page. As noted, the renewal date is no later than April 30, 2016.

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