New Jersey State Bar Association - The voluntary Bar Association of New Jersey, serving members since 1899.

Capitol Report

September 17, 2012

 

This is a status report on recently passed and pending legislation, regulations, gubernatorial nominations and/or appointments of interest to lawyers. The report may also include information about appearances of NJSBA representatives before legislative committees, and the involvement of the NJSBA as amicus in appellate court matters. The government affairs department of the association compiles the report. Following each bill number is the sponsor’s name, the NJSBA position, if any, bill description and status. Full and previous versions of the Capitol Report with links to related text are available online at www.njsba.com.

 

Special Edition

This special edition of the Capitol Report is the seventh of a series of reports summarizing the progress of NJSBA priority legislation since the beginning of the current legislative session.

 

Municipal Court

S-456 (PDF) (Truner)/S-1750 (PDF) (Scutari)/A-1860 (PDF) (Diegnan)/A-2832 (PDF) (Stender) (NJSBA supports) Creates the Restricted Use License Program; revises penalties for drunk driving offenses; creates restricted use driver's license and permits certain motor vehicle offenders to apply for a restricted use license.

Status: S-456 and A-1860 are both pending review in the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee and Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee, respectively. S-1750 and A-2832 are both pending review in the Senate Judiciary Committee and Assembly Judiciary Committee, respectively.

S-1128 (PDF) (Turner)/A-1461 (PDF) (Gusciora) (NJSBA supports) Establishes a conditional intervention program in municipal court for certain first-time offenders. The NJSBA supports this legislation because it can fix a longstanding inequity in the municipal court system. Presently, pre-trial intervention (PTI) is only allowed for indictable offenses. Therefore, for example, if an individual is charged with theft over $200, he or she qualifies for PTI, which will divert him or her from the criminal system before conviction. However, if the theft charge is less than $200, the individual does not qualify for PTI because it is not indictable. In some instances, for example if the individual is a public employee, the difference between PTI and a conviction includes a loss of employment.

Status: Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee/Assembly Judiciary Committee

A-504 (PDF) (Albano) (NJSBA opposes) Clarifies that a conviction of refusal to submit to a breathalyzer constitutes a prior conviction for sentencing purposes under the drunk driving law. The NJSBA opposes this bill because legally, every refusal charge is accompanied by a driving while intoxicated (DWI) charge. The present DWI plea guidelines (N.J. Court Rules, Part 7, Guideline 4) do not allow the dismissal of a DWI as a plea bargain. Therefore, the only way to have solely a refusal on one's record is to have been acquitted of the accompanying DWI. Having been factually acquitted of DWI, it would be entirely unfair to treat someone who has been acquitted of a DWI the same as someone who has been convicted.

Status:
The bill is currently pending review in the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee.

A-1627 (PDF) (Bramnick) (NJSBA supports) Establishes a municipal court conditional dismissal program for certain first-time offenders. The NJSBA supports this bill because it would bring a pre-trial intervention (PTI) program to the New Jersey municipal courts. The present superior court PTI program was originally envisaged for the municipal courts. However, once it was appropriated for the superior courts no effort was made to consider expanding a proposal to the municipal courts. This legislation would provide a long overdue addition to the municipal courts for disposing of cases. Such additional flexibility is useful in giving the municipal court judge another tool for resolving a municipal court case. Given that New Jersey's municipal courts are the state's busiest, this legislation would greatly enhance the processing of cases.

 

Status: The bill is pending review in the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

A-1689 (PDF) (Russo) (NJSBA opposes) Establishes a special medical malpractice part in the superior court. The NJSBA does not support any legislation that takes away an individual’s right to a jury trial. The right to a jury trial is a fundamental right that should not be compromised for the sake of judicial economy.

Status:
The bill is pending review in the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

A-1848 (PDF) (Diegnan) (NJSBA supports) (NJSBA-drafted) Imposes limits on fees charged for discovery in municipal court matters. The NJSBA Board of Trustees, Legislative Committee, Criminal Law Section, Consumer Protection Law Committee, and Municipal Court Practice Section voted to support this legislation based upon statewide findings that disparate problems existed with municipal discovery costs. After anecdotal discussions for more than two years by the state bar’s membership, the NJSBA Board of Trustees and Municipal Court Practice Section endorsed taking formal action on this matter. The action authorized included, after consultation with the Supreme Court, the development of legislation. The Supreme Court indicated this was a matter for the Legislature to handle. In many cases, municipal prosecutors exact from defendants exorbitant fees for discovery. Fees range from $10 to $35. For the duplicating of videotapes, the fee can be up to $100. While such fees are common, they are not universal. The cities of Newark and Lakewood have fee schedules that track the New Jersey Right to Know Law. The NJSBA believes the latter fees should be the standard.

Status: The bill is now pending review in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

A-2148 (PDF) (Gusciora) (NJSBA supports) Requires an ignition interlock device to be installed on a vehicle owned or leased by a drunk driver only after the period of driver's license suspension. The NJSBA supports this legislation because the interlock law, as it now stands, has created confusion and consternation among the bench, bar and public. It currently requires an interlock during suspension. The NJSBA’s position on the original law was that it is not rational unless related to a work license. That did not occur. This amendment would cure the two problem areas of the law: 1) that an interlock must be installed even though the defendant’s license is suspended, and 2) that it pertains to vehicles a defendant does not own. This amendment imposes the interlock only after suspension, and only upon vehicles owned or leased by the defendant.

Status: The bill is pending review in the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee.

 

PROFESSIONAL MALPRACTICE

 

S-474 (PDF) (Thompson) (NJSBA opposes) Eliminates the discovery rule for medical malpractice liability actions. The statute of limitations for medical malpractice actions is two years. However, under the discovery rule, the statute is tolled and does not begin to run until the plaintiff knew or, through the exercise of reasonable due diligence, should have known of the injury. The result of this rule is that the time period for medical malpractice liability actions can be virtually infinite. This bill limits the discovery rule and provides that medical malpractice liability actions must be filed within four years of the occurrence of the professional negligence.

Status:
The bill is pending review in the Senate Commerce Committee.

S-1221 (PDF) (Vitale)/A-1817 (PDF) (Conaway) (NJSBA opposes) Extends the Medical Malpractice Liability Insurance Premium Assistance Fund and collection of annual surcharges for five years. The NJSBA strongly opposes this bill, as it did the initial passage of the legislation imposing the $75 attorney assessment in 2004. It is fundamentally unfair to tax thousands of lawyers in New Jersey who do not practice in the medical malpractice area to pay for harm caused by negligent doctors.

Status:
The bills are pending review in the Senate Commerce Committee and Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee, respectively.