Maurice River, Vineland Agreement Means Third County Regional Court

MAURICE RIVER TWP — The City of Vineland will house and administer the township’s court system beginning in May and for the remainder of 2022 under an agreement that both parties hope will become a long-term agreement.

“I think it will be a good marriage for everyone,” township mayor Kenneth Whildin said Tuesday. “And the state is pushing shared services. So I think this is the wave of the future.

At its March 17 meeting, the township committee unanimously approved a resolution authorizing the settlement. Last month, the committee held a public hearing on the idea, and last week’s approval came as no surprise.

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The Vineland City Council has yet to approve the end of the deal. City attorney Richard Tonetta said that should happen within the next few weeks.

Under a separate finalized agreement, Vineland is already the interim administrator of the township court. This was quickly put in place after the court administrator recently decided to resign.

Maurice River estimates that she will save about $70,000 a year from the settlement, or about half of her annual legal expenses. The deal also allows him to circumvent state pressure to “toughen up” court security.

“We don’t have bulletproof glass,” Whildin said. “We don’t have armed security. … If we were to make these upgrades, there would be a cost.

Vineland said the city would receive about $70,000 a year, an amount calculated to strictly cover actual costs. This is the first such agreement for the municipal justice system. The city has, however, discussed the idea with neighboring Millville.

“What it costs the taxpayers of the City of Vineland is what they (Maurice River) will pay,” Tonetta said. “So basically all they do is rent our stuff. … The Municipal Court of the Township of Rivière Maurice will continue to exist. It will be right in our building.

Whildin said the township had considered joining the Cumberland Salem Regional Municipal Court, based in the Seabrook area of ​​Upper Deerfield Township.

The members decided against it partly because Seabrook is a greater distance to travel and partly because it involved a three-year commitment. Vineland agreed to a one-year contract with an option to renew on terms adjusted as needed.

“So at the end of the year, both sides sit at the table and say, ‘Look. It worked well. It didn’t work out so well. That’s what we have to do. That’s what we have to do,” Wildin said. “We’ll stick our toe and see how it works. Obviously, cost reduction is the determining factor.

Whildin and Tonetta said there are discussions about setting up equipment in the township’s municipal building for virtual hearings. Residents, at least on minor matters, could then have cases heard remotely instead of driving to Vineland.

The Honorable Frank J. Testa Municipal Justice Building on Landis Avenue in Vineland.

“But the reality is that very few residents of Maurice River Township use our yard,” Whildin said. “We are sort of a drive through community. So a lot of our legal action is related to motor vehicles and they come from out of town.

Maurice River and Vineland began talking in 2021. New Jersey Assignment Judge Benjamin Telsey and state justice officials took part in the meetings.

New Jersey encourages regional municipal court systems. Atlantic County recently created a countywide system, the first in the state.

Pete McAleer, spokesman for the state Courts Administrative Office, said Telsey has met with all of the mayors in the county. Participation is strictly voluntary, he said.

Cumberland County currently has two joint regional courts: Bridgeton and Fairfield form a joint court; and Cumberland Salem Regional includes the townships of Pittsgrove (Salem County), Deerfield, Downe, Greenwich, Hopewell, Lawrence, Stow Creek and Upper Deerfield, as well as Shiloh Borough.

Tonetta said the Vineland Courthouse, originally a post office, is the only municipal courthouse in the county with two functioning courtrooms.

“So our facilities are second to none,” Tonetta said. “We’ve been doing this for years, so nothing’s really going to change. We have two judges. We have everything here set up for further work.

In New Jersey, municipal courts can combine as “joint” or “shared-service” courts and agreements can always be voided. The two types differ in the extent of consolidation, and the state has no preference, McAleer said.

“In ‘shared court’ arrangements, the courts typically share space, but may also share staff and other resources,” McAleer said. “It is important to note that the courts retain their individual identities, with their business and finances remaining separate.

“In a ‘common court,’ all cases in participating courts are filed under the same court code, with monies commingled in the same bank account,” he said. “Participating Courts essentially become a larger court.”

Joe Smith is a NE Philly native transplanted to South Jersey over 30 years ago, now keeping tabs on the South Jersey government. He is a former and current senior editor of the Daily Journal in Vineland, the Courier-Post in Cherry Hill, and the Burlington County Times.

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Elna M. Lemons