I’ve mentioned in the past the use of mayor’s as trial judges (and the efforts to end the practice in South Carolina). Now comes word that Delaware will revise the way aldermen will serve as judges, at least in the City of Newark.
Some background is in order.
Like Mayor’s Courts, Aldermen’s Courts existed in at least some of the 13 colonies immediately after the revolution. There are records of such courts in Pennsylvania (Emerick v. Harris, 1 Binn. 416 (1808)), New Jersey until at least 1851 (Godfrey v. Myers, 23 N.J.L. 197) and Georgia as late as 1857 (Savannah v. Hussey, 21 Ga. 80) and reports of a similar court in South Carolina in 1789. Such courts appear in the records of Utah, where an Alderman for the City of Salt Lake ordered the arrest and conducted the trial of a local druggist who was selling “spirituous liquors” without a license (Godbe v. Salt Lake, 1 Utah 68 (1876)).
Delaware is the only state that appears to retain such courts which date back to at least 1832. The courts appear to exist in a few Delaware cities based on charters granted by the legislature to the cities, primary among them Newark.
HB 351 of 2012 amends the Charter of the City of Newark by re-writing the provisions related to aldermen in its entirety. Under the current system the city council nominates a single person, whose name is sent to the Governor. After the Governor reviews the individual, the state’s senate must confirm the nomination. Under HB 351, the Governor would get one or more names, along with supporting documentation for each, subject to state senate confirmation. The aldermen would be appointed for 4-year terms and must repeat the process (city nominates, governor approves, state senate confirms).
HB 351 also requires that the aldermen appointed be attorneys and neither a member of the City Council nor otherwise an officer or employee of the city. A synopsis of the bill indicates “This Act serves to codify numerous policies that promote the autonomy of the Alderman’s Court and thereby foster public confidence in the Court…many of the policies applicable to the Magistrate’s Court are applied to Alderman’s Court, such as requirements to segregate the Court from the Town’s offices.”
The bill was approved by full Senate on June 26, having been previously approved by the House June 12.