The last few weeks have been particularly active in the area of judicial impeachment.
In New Jersey, SR 105 expressed the sense of Senate that in the event the General Assembly does not proceed with impeachment Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto that he should resign as Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court. The criticism of Justice Rivera-Soto arises from controversy over a vacancy on the state’s supreme court. It began in May 2010 when, for the first time, the Governor declined to automatically reappoint a supreme court justice back to the court (Justice John E. Wallace Jr.), instead nominating Anne Patterson. The Senate President has declined to have a confirmation hearing on Patterson, resulting in a vacancy on the high court.
Chief Justice Stuart Rabner temporarily elevated a trial court judge into the vacancy, an act Justice Rivera-Soto decried in at least two December 2010 opinions as unconstitutional. Justice Rivera-Soto filed a separate opinion in Lula M. Henry v. New Jersey Department of Human Services “abstaining and expressing his view that the Constitution allows the assignment of a Superior Court judge to serve on the Supreme Court only when necessary to constitute a quorum and stating that he will continue to abstain from all decisions of the Court for so long as it remains unconstitutionally constituted.”
Less than a month later on January 12, 2011 in Hopewell Valley Citizens’ Group, Inc. v. Berwind Prop. Group Dev. Co., L.P. Justice Rivera-Soto modified his position: “This process [blanket abstention from all decisions of the Court] has revealed a previously unconsidered, but nevertheless reasoned and measured alternative approach, one that minimizes the jurisprudential uproar a blanket abstention might create but that also maintains the intellectual and constitutional integrity that undergirds my earlier abstaining opinion… I will cast a substantive vote in every case in which the judge of the Superior Court temporarily assigned to serve on the Supreme Court participates except for those in which the temporarily assigned judge casts a vote that affects the outcome of the case.”
The result was SR 105
It is the sense of the Senate that the actions of Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto are prejudicial to the administration of justice and constitute a serious violation of the public trust. It is also the sense of the Senate that the actions of Justice Rivera-Soto may constitute grounds for impeachment for misdemeanor committed during his continuance in office. It is further the sense of the Senate that in the event the Assembly does not consider Articles of Impeachment, Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto must resign his seat as Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of New Jersey.
The resolution passed on February 17 on a 21-3-16 vote. All the Senate Republicans declined to vote on the resolution.
In New Hampshire, the House Judiciary Committee advanced a bill to start an impeachment investigation of Marital Master Philip Cross. I detailed HR 7 in a prior blog post here and some of the history and prior attempts to have the Martial Master and other judges/judicial officers removed from office last year. The efforts against Martial Master Cross derive from what the Concord Monitor described as a “witch hunt” lead by “men angry about the outcome of their divorce cases.” According to the New Hampshire Bar Association e-Bulletin, the House Judiciary committee on March 1 voted 10-5 to proceed with the investigation of not only Cross but, according to the text of HR 7, “and/or any justice of the New Hampshire superior court.”