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N.J. Justice Rivera-Soto will not seek reappointment

Adrienne Lu, Maya Rao, Inquirer Staff Writers

Updated: Monday, January 3, 2011, 1:09 PM

Roberto Rivera-Soto answers a question during a 2004 New Jersey state Senate Judiciary hearing on his nomination to the state Supreme Court.

New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto will not seek reappointment this year, the governor's office announced today.

The move follows Rivera-Soto's announcement last month that he would decline to participate in cases alongside a temporary judge after Senate Democrats declined to hold a hearing on Gov. Christie's nominee for another top court vacancy.

In a letter to Rivera-Soto, Christie praised his service and said he would honor the request. Rivera-Soto's initial seven-year term expires in September, after which he could have sought reappointment for tenure until the mandatory retirement age of 70.

Christie also said he would not nominate someone to replace Rivera-Soto until his pick to replace former Supreme Court Justice John Wallace Jr. - Morris County corporate attorney Anne Patterson - receives a hearing.

Christie set up a fight with Democrats controlling the state Legislature in May when he announced he would not reappoint Wallace. Democrats charged Christie's action was an attack on the independence of the court.

In a statement, the governor said: "245 days ago I nominated Anne Patterson to the State Supreme Court because of her high level of legal intellect, character and compassion. Today, 245 days later, she has yet to receive a fair hearing as required by New Jersey's Constitution while a seat on our highest court continues to remain vacant. I will not provide a nominee to fill Justice Rivera-Soto's seat until Anne Patterson receives the hearing that she deserves and that the Senate is constitutionally obligated to provide."

Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) said in an interview the Senate would not hold a hearing for Patterson until March 2012, when Wallace turns 70 and would have been required to retire had he been reappointed.

He said Chief Justice Stuart Rabner could appoint a temporary justice when Rivera-Soto leaves, much as he appointed Appellate Judge Edwin Stern to temporarily fill the Wallace vacancy.

"I have a responsibility to the independence of the court system, and I'm sticking to it," said Sweeney. "If (Christie) chooses not to nominate someone, that's his choice."

Known as one of the most conservative judges on the Supreme Court, Rivera-Soto, of Haddonfield, also the first Hispanic-American to serve on the bench.

Rivera-Soto's reappointment was far from certain. In 2007, the Supreme Court censured him after an ethics panel found he had improperly used his title to try to influence a judge in a dispute involving his son.

Democratic state lawmakers strongly criticized Rivera-Soto's decision not to participate in court decisions, with some calling for impeachment

Adrienne Lu, Maya Rao, Inquirer Staff Writers

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