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Latino Daily News

Wednesday December 22, 2010

Latino Judge in the Midst of Constitutional Controversy

New Jersey, Puerto Rican Justice Roberto Rivera Soto is in the eye of a legal storm that has bled into every branch of government. This week, State Sen. Nia Gill proposed a resolution urging Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto, who has refused to rule on cases, to resign if the State Assembly does not seek to impeach him.

“By the Legislature not acting to remove Associate Justice Rivera-Soto, we are abdicating our constitutional responsibility,” she said.

Gill’s is the latest move in a intricate chess game that began in May, when Gov. Chris Christie announced he would not reappoint Justice John Wallace Jr. and instead nominated lawyer Anne Patterson. Senate President Stephen Sweeney, then refused to contemplate her nomination, alleging that Democrats won’t consider any substitutes for Wallace until his retirement in March 2012.

To fill Wallace’s seat, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner appointed a temporary justice. But Rivera-Soto says that appointment was unnecessary, and that only the State Governor can appoint someone to the position; Rabner can’t, his resolution is unconstitutional, and as a result Rivera-Soto has decided to abstain from voting on this matter and cases related that come before him.

Rivera-Soto is supported by Helen Hoens, while Rabner’s position is supported by Justices Virginia Long, Jaynee LaVecchia and Barry T. Albin

Gill took to the Senate floor Monday to say Rivera-Soto, turned his position “into a no-show job.” She said he is manipulating the judicial system and undermining the integrity of the state’s highest court.

Governor Christie found paradoxical that Democrats, who have refused to hold confirmation hearings for Patterson, are criticizing Rivera-Soto for not performing his duties.

The governor would not say whether he agreed with Rivera-Soto’s decision to abstain ruling, but he did say Rivera-Soto “is obviously expressing his opinion and his view of what’s constitutional and what isn’t,” Christie said. “I’m not going to get into telling you whether I agree with him or disagree with him, that’s not my job.”