NO DEMS, BUT OOZING SARCASM, IN FH

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In one of the odder entries in the annals of local governance, the Fair Haven Borough Council met yesterday with the stated purpose of blowing off steam.

And vent its members did, giving voice to everything from disappointment to indignation to oozing sarcasm.

The catalyst? Suggestions by 12th-district Assembly Democratic candidates Mike Panter and Amy Mallet that “cronyism” had tainted the town’s recent cell tower deal.

With Panter and Mallet no-shows at a hastily assembled special session held expressly to refute their allegations, Mayor Mike Halfacre at one point pretended that Panter was there, asking and responding to questions that the Dems had told supporters via email they thought needed answering. Download panter_mallet_email_100807

“Let’s move forward with Mr. Panter’s questions, because I know he’s busy and has to get out of here,” Halfacre said, addressing an empty chair.

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FAIR HAVEN TEES UP PANTER, MALLET

Img_6922_2Showdown at 9a sharp Tuesday, right here.

Incumbent 12th-district Assemblyman Mike Panter and his running mate, Amy Mallet, may have been aiming primarily at one of their Republican opponents last week with their suggestion of cronyism in the Fair Haven cell tower deal.

But the allegation has roused the Fair Haven council, who have come out their corner swinging — not in defense of candidate and telecom consultant Declan O’Scanlon, they say, but of their own good names.

Tomorrow morning, the council will hold a special meeting at which they’ve challenged Panter, of Shrewsbury, and Mallet, of Fair Haven, to publicly make their case that the contract with O’Scanlon, a Little Silver councilman, was somehow tainted by a conflict of interest, as they alleged last week in a letter to the state Attorney General.

“They’re taking a shot at the integrity of the Fair Haven council,” says governing body president Tom Gilmour, who played a lead role in a four-year effort to eliminate a dead-zone in wireless service to the town.

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DOWN ON THE FARM: BECK V. KARCHER

The latest point of conflict in the 12th-district Senate race between incumbent Democrat Ellen Karcher and Republican Assemblywoman Jennifer Beck involves Christmas trees.

Karcher says she grows them on her Marlboro farm, and sells a a half-dozen a year, plus some cordwood — enough to qualify for a coveted farmland assessment on the 8.7-acre property.

Beck wants to know if Karcher in fact qualifies for the assessment, given the meager sales, and why she hasn’t previously disclosed any income from her farm.

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DEMS WANT O’SCANLON CONTRACT PROBE

The Democrats in the 12th-district Assembly race have asked state Attorney General Anne Milgram to investigate the deal that gave one of their opponents the exclusive right to negotiate the Fair Haven cell tower deal with a church and four wireless carriers, the Asbury Park Press reports today.

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Incumbent Assemblyman Mike Panter of Shrewsbury and his running mate, Amy Mallet of Fair Haven, “are questioning the compensation package for FSD Enterprises LLC of Red Bank, which is owned by Republican Assembly candidate Declan O’Scanlon and was hired by Fair Haven to negotiate a land lease for the tower and with wireless carriers,” the newspaper reports.

In a letter Tuesday to Milgram, the Democratic duo questioned whether borough officials were aware that FSD would receive a percentage of the first year’s revenue from each carrier in addition to a flat fee of $5,000, which was payable in two installments. Panter said the revenue-sharing portion of the deal could reduce Fair Haven’s estimated annual revenue of $81,000 by almost half.

They’ve also raised conflict-of-interest issues arising from Mayor Mike Halfacre’s role as borough prosecutor in Little Silver, where O’Scanlon is a councilman.

Halfacre says no conflict existed, and that the tower deal negotiated by O’Scanlon brought in far more money than borough officials had anticipated, justifying O’Scanlon’s fees.

He’s also posted, on his blog, a statement “carefully crafted… to be as diplomatic as possible” refuting the Panter-Mallet allegations.

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BECK, KARCHER TRADE FIRE, ICILY

PoliticsNJ has coverage today of yesterday’s debate between 12th-district Senator Ellen Karcher, a Democrat, and her GOP challenger, Assemblywoman Jennifer Beck, at the Monmouth Reform Temple in Tinton Falls.

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Writer Max Pizarro has this scene-setter:

The place was standing room only, with the rest of the state of New Jersey weighing on the District 12 event like a psychic mother lode. The majority Dems figure the map works in their favor until 2011, when redistricting occurs, and with sufficiently safe districts elsewhere, they’ve essentially conceded the neighboring 11th, 14th and 13th strongholds – to throw their money into this one-time Republican lock district, where Karcher must get through the tenacious Beck.

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STATIC OVER O’SCANLON TOWER CONTRACT

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Incumbent 12th-district Assemblyman Mike Panter of Shrewsbury and his running mate, Amy Mallet of Fair Haven, are questioning how Republican challenger Declan O’Scanlon got the contract to negotiate the recently concluded Fair Haven cell tower deal, today’s Asbury Park Press reports.

The Democrats “hinted at cronyism between O’Scanlon and Fair Haven Mayor Michael Halfacre, who has been municipal prosecutor in Little Silver for seven years, where O’Scanlon serves on the Borough Council,” the Press reports.

“We want to make sure this is as transparent as possible and make sure the taxpayers understand the terms of the contract,” Mallet said. “We want to make sure everything is up front.”

In response, Halfacre told the Press that potential conflict-of-interest concerns were raised by O’Scanlon himself. He said the Fair Haven council, after awarding O’Scanlon a professional services contract, which requires no bidding process, put the job up for public bid, which O’Scanlon won in April.

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COOLAHAN SAYS MENNA LEAKED INFO

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Red Bank GOP council candidate James A. Coolahan today accused Mayor Pasquale Menna of having leaked information about financial difficulties Coolahan has experienced, in possible violation of attorney ethics rules.

Coolahan made the allegation in an interview this afternoon with redbankgreen, which had been alerted to a Monmouth County Sheriff’s sale listing of Coolahan’s residence by a reader. The reader said she happened upon Coolahan’s name while perusing the list for real estate bargains.

The county lists the sale of Coolahan’s William Street home as having been scheduled for Sept. 24 as a result of a $445,000 judgment.

Further investigation by redbankgreen uncovered a filing for federal bankruptcy court protection made by Coolahan last Friday. Download coolahan_ch_13_petition.pdf

In a telephone interview, Coolahan acknowledged the pendency of bankruptcy and county-court actions, though he said the sheriff’s sale has been postponed to a future date. He said that he is well on his way to getting his finances in order after a long string of medical problems, and added that he is hopeful of saving his home from a mortgage company that is his primary creditor.

He also said he had consulted with Menna, who is an attorney, about his financial situation, and accused Menna of having leaked the information to parties Coolahan didn’t identify.

“I guarantee you got it from somebody who got it from Pat Menna,” Coolahan said. “I haven’t heard it from anybody else. Who the hell peruses the foreclosures, other than real estate people?”

Reached at his Shrewsbury office for comment, Menna, a Democrat, called the accusation an “absolute fucking fallacy. It’s a lie.”

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MENNA PARTNERS WITH BECK SLATEMATE

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Mayor Pasquale Menna, a lifelong liberal Democrat, has merged his one-man legal practice into a three-lawyer partnership that includes Republican Caroline Casagrande.

Yes, that Caroline Casagrande, who’s running for a 12th-district Assembly seat on the same ticket as state Senate hopeful, Assemblywoman and former Red Bank Councilwoman Jennifer Beck.

The new firm, called Menna, Supko & Casagrande , also includes Michael P. Supko, Jr., from the Red Bank office of Gluck Walrath, co-headed by former Fair Haven Councilman Chris Walrath. Casagrande comes from the Matawan firm of Cleary, Alfieri, Jones & Hoyle.

The threesome set up shop at 167 Avenue of the Commons in Shrewsbury last Friday. Menna’s former office was in the onetime Sun Bank branch opposite the post office on Broad Street in Red Bank.

Partnering with the opposition? Moving out of Red Bank? What on earth?

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KARCHER: BECK VIOLATED ETHICS RULES

The 12th-District Senate race between incumbent Democrat Ellen Karcher and Republican Assemblywoman Jennifer Beck, already framed by both sides as a contest over which candidate is the most committed to ethics reforms in Trenton, got personal yesterday.

Karcher accused Beck, of Red Bank, of violating ethics rules by using state letterhead and other trappings of office for political purposes within 90 days of an election.

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The complaint concerns a letter written on Beck’s legislative stationery to residents of Seabrook Village in Tinton Falls. It highlights Beck’s opposition to a plan by the Navy to allow some 300 civilian families to occupy military housing at the Naval Weapons Station Earle, and refers readers to “our online petition” expressing opposition to the plan.

The website location of the petition — nociviliansatearle.org — is prominently marked as “Sponsored by Beck for Senate and O’Scanlon and Casagrande for Assembly,” referring to Beck ticketmates Declan O’Scanlon of Little Silver and Caroline Casagrande of Colts Neck.

In letters sent yesterday to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Ethical Standards and the state Election Law Enforcement Commission, Karcher asks for investigations into whether state legislative funds were improperly used for campaign purposes. She contends the letter was sent out in August, within the 90-day moratorium.

From the news blog PoliticsNJ:

Beck responded that the complaint was “frivolous,” and that she never mailed the letter. Instead, she handed it out during a visit to Seabrook Village, a senior living center in Tinton Falls. Beck said that handing out the letter did not violate the “spirit or letter of the law.”

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GOP TRIO: THREE STEPS TO LOWER TAXES

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The Republican candidates for 12th-district office yesterday laid out a three-point plan to curtail state spending, which they say is driving residents out of New Jersey, according to a report in today’s Asbury Park Press.

Led state Assemblywoman and state Senate candidate Jennifer Beck of Red Bank, the trio made a stop at Riverview Gardens Park. Beck is running with Little Silver Councilman Declan O’Scanlon and Caroline Casagrande of Marlboro. They’ll face incumbent Sen. Ellen Karcher, Assemblyman Mike Panter of Shrewsbury and Assembly hopeful Amy Mallet of Fair Haven.

Beck, O’Scanlon and Casagrande are running as reformers.

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ON DECK: A TRADER JOE’S AND A GARAGE?

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It is perhaps the single most contentious issue in Red Bank: whether the downtown needs a parking garage.

Merchants, in general, say yes. They complain that a shortage of street and lot parking is choking their businesses and undermining broader efforts to capitalize on the town’s sterling reputation as a cultural and shopping destination.

Building a garage that significantly increases the number of parking slots in the central business district is the best thing Red Bank could do to preserve its stature among New Jersey downtowns and stave off threats from Pier Village in Long Branch and other emerging marketplaces, proponents say.

But many residents say no way to a parking deck — not if they have to pay for it with higher property taxes.

Efforts by the Democrat-controlled council to convert the borough-owned White Street lot to a parking deck attracted large, angry crowds in 2001 and 2005. The latter attempt called for a 570-car, $11.8 million structure. Both times, the idea was shelved.

The solution, many agree, is some form of public-private deal in which a developer carries the financial risk and the town gets both revenue and more slots.

Finally, a plan along those lines may be in the works. And it involves a high-profile retailer that has done this sort of thing before elsewhere.

redbankgreen has learned that representatives of Trader Joe’s, a wildly popular chain of specialty food stores with affordable prices, met with borough officials two weeks ago to explore the possibility of building a store with a parking deck above it on the White Street lot.

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BECK: STATE TOO SLOW ON BEST LIQUORS

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Twelfth-district state Assemblywoman and Red Bank resident Jennifer Beck has asked Attorney General Anne Milgram to speed up the scheduled hearing on whether the borough can shut down Best Liquors over a series of sales infractions.

“March of 2008 is entirely too long for the Borough of Red Bank to wait to see if the revocation of Best Liquors’ liquor license is upheld,” Beck says in a press release that announces a letter she sent to the AG. “Red Bank’s quality of life continues to suffer as Best Liquors has been permitted to stay open pending the outcome of their appeal.”

Here’s the letter: Download BeckMilgram83007.

It’s also addressed to Jerry Fischer, director of the state Alcoholic Beverage Control division, the agency that this week set a March 5, 2008 hearing date on the appeal by Best Liquors to halt the shutdown.

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RED BANK BUDGET: TOO TIRED TO ARGUE?

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A year after Democrats predicted Red Bank taxes would go down in 2007, the Borough Council last night finalized this year’s budget.

Taxes went up.

As the Borough Council majority sees it, though, the local bite was made as painless as possible. The average homeowner’s local-purposes tax bill — the first installment of which is due today — is up $57 for the year. Last year, it was up $87, according to CFO Frank Mason.

To Republican Councilman John Curley, the $20.23 million spending plan, which includes $8.6 million to be raised locally, would have benefited from a tougher budgeting process, outsourcing of some services and other approaches he said the majority had rejected.

To River Street resident Gary Morris, the plan was tainted by a “shameful” continuation of free healthcare insurance coverage for elected officials.

All of those arguments, though, have been made many times this year by those same parties. So by last night, with the budget’s adoption a mere formality, the combatants went a it with all the vigor of football players in the fourth quarter of a pro-bowl rout.

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RUMOLA LEAVING RIVERCENTER

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Tricia Rumola, a borough native who rose from college intern to executive director of Red Bank RiverCenter and helped solidify its national reputation in the realm of downtown revitalizations, is leaving the organization at the end of the month.

Rumola tells redbankgreen that she’s taken a job with a hunger-fighting non-profit in New York City that she declined to name. There, she’ll work in fundraising and other aspects of development.

“There’s no other place in New Jersey I’d rather work than Red Bank,” Rumola says. But it’s time to move on to a new challenge, she says.

“It’s bittersweet,” Rumola says of the change. “I’ve lived here my whole life, I’ve developed a lot of friendships through RiverCenter, and those will continue. But it’s a time that I really need to grow personally and professionally, and this will help me on my merry way.”

Rumola’s departure comes just as the Special Improvement District that RiverCenter has overseen since 1991 is being expanded from the downtown to embrace businesses in the northwest quadrant of the borough.

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SANDY HOOK DEAL GETS FRESH SCRUTINY

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A federal watchdog agency will look into the circumstances under which a Rumson developer obtained rights to convert former military housing at Fort Hancock into commercial space on Sandy Hook without showing he has the money to do the job, newspapers are reporting today.

Sandy Hook Partners, headed by Rumson’s James Wassel, has gotten repeated extensions to obtain financing for the work, whereas similar projects elsewhere in the U.S. were required to show proof of financing before winning approval, opponents of the deal contend.

From the Star-Ledger:

Lawrence Luttrell, the attorney representing Save Sandy Hook, said word of the inspector general’s probe is welcome. He said Wassel has continually blamed the litigation for his lack of financing — even though it began well after Wassel should have had the money in place.

“We’re pleased that somebody’s finally looking into this because it’s absolutely insane how long this has been going on,” he said.

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PROWN: SAVE THIS BUILDING

Img_8386Cash it out, or turn it into a community center?

To the borough of Red Bank, it’s an asset beter turned into cash.

To kids’ activist David Prown, it’s about to become a missed opportunity.

On the agenda for Monday’s council meeting is a second reading of an ordinance authorizing the auction of a town-owned building at the corner of Bridge Avenue and Drs. Parker Boulevard. [Postscript: the first part of that sentence is wrong. The item appeared on the July 9 agenda as a resolution, not an ordinance. Sorry for the error.]

At the moment, it’s rented for $1 a year by the Community YMCA, which offers programs for pre-schoolers in the mornings and primary-school-aged kids in the afternoon at the facility.

By the end of the day on Aug. 10, the council is hoping it’ll put an $800,000 bulge in the town’s wallet.

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BANNON OUT, TYLER IN, ON GOP SLATE

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By LINDA G. RASTELLI

Six weeks after the primary election but well before the real start of this year’s race for Red Bank council, the Republicans have changed their slate.

Leighton Avenue resident John Tyler has replaced Mary Ellen Bannon as one of two party representatives seeking a pair of three-year terms.

Bannon, we hear, stepped down because she’s getting married and the council race was too much additional burden for her to carry. We were unable to locate her for comment.

Tyler and his wife, Krishna, have been in the forefront among West Side residents lobbying for the revocation of Best Liquors’ alcohol distribution license. The store is located two doors down from their home on Leighton Avenue.

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ZIPPRICH LANDS NATIONAL ENDORSEMENT

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The race is on.

The first press release (that we know of, at least) in this year’s race for Red Bank council has Democrat Ed Zipprich landing the endorsement of Democracy for America, a Burlington, Vt.-based political action committee founded by former Vermont governor and presidential candidate Howard Dean. (Download zipprich_dfa_endorsement.doc)

Zipprich is seeking the one-year unexpired term created with the resignation in January of Kaye Ernst, and will line up againts seat holder Grace Cangemi.

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BAUER LEAVES STATE GIG FOR PRIVATE ONE

Virginia Bauer, who rallied Congresss to enact tax breaks for families of Sept. 11, 2001 victims after her husband died in the attack, is leaving her post as state Commerce secretary to take a job with the real estate firm Mack-Cali Realty, according to today’s Star-Ledger.

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The Red Bank resident, then living in Rumson, came into the public eye in the weeks immediately following the attacks. Nearly two years later, she was picked by then-Gov. Jim McGreevey to head the state lottery.

A year ago, she moved to the Commerce, Economic Growth and Tourism Commission at Gov. Jon Corzine’s request. Three months ago, she was tapped by Corzine to become a commissioner of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. She joined the port’s board just last month.

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NEVER-ENDING McGREEVANCES AT MOLLY

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By LINDA G. RASTELLI

OK, let’s get right to it: How could she not have known?

“I didn’t have time to listen to rumors,” Dina Matos McGreevey told redbankgreen last night, shortly before she took the floor at a posh dinner event in her name at the Molly Pitcher Inn.

She had a busy job, she had a new baby. “Also, I wasn’t looking for it,” she said. “There was nothing in our private life that indicated he was homosexual.”

For more on that enticing tidbit, check out the early pages of her recently published memoir, in which she writes — cryptically, and just to “get it out of the way” — that “the sex was good.”

Anyway, in cases of infidelity, “the wife or husband is always the last to know,” she said.

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AT LAST, A TOWER OF POWER?

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By LINDA G. RASTELLI

After years of grousing by Fair Haven residents about a dead zone of cellphone service, and more than a year of contention over how to resolve it, the borough may at last have hit on a fix.

The borough council this week passed an ordinance this week to lease a landlocked five-acre parcel from Christ Church United Methodist on which the town hopes to build a cell tower.

The plan is likely to be seen as a relief to residents of several neighborhoods that had previously been targeted as the location for a town-owned tower, each proposal for which prompted outcries about property values, aesthetics and safety.

But the plan also creates a new pocket of disgruntlement in and near McCarter Avenue — though no residents spoke out against the plan at the council meeting Monday night.

“Some people are unhappy, and I sympathize,” Mayor Mike Halfacre said at the session, during which the council gave unanimous approval to the plan. “But it’s the best solution of the options we have left. It’s the interests of 5,000 residents over those of 200 householders.”

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LAWYER: STORE FACES ‘DEATH PENALTY’

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By LINDA G. RASTELLI

Red Bank’s legal offensive against the controversial Best Liquors store on Leighton Avenue is the economic equivalent of a ‘death penalty’ case, its lawyer argued Thursday night at the conclusion of a three-hour hearing.

The session wrapped up at about 10p without a decision by the Borough Council, which is sitting in judgment. The council instead opted to adjourn until next Thursday at 4p, when it is expected to rule on whether the store’s record of illicit booze and cigarette sales to minors merits action. Download best_liquors_charges_and_specifications.pdf

If so, the penalties, if any, could be as severe as a revocation of the store’s license to sell liquor, Mayor Pasquale Menna said earlier this week.

That possible fate is not lost on either Sunny Sharma, who owns the store, or his lawyer, Samuel ‘Skip’ Reale Jr., who ripped the case made against the store by Borough Attorney Tom Hall.

Reale said Hall was relying on “second- and third-hand hearsay” in an effort to shut the store down.

“Hall is basically asking for the death penalty,” Reale said in a summation to the council. “Is the evidence you’ve heard the type of evidence you’d want somebody to use in determing whether your business should continue or not?”

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MATOS-McG HEATS UP AS SHE HEADS HERE

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The mud is flying again in the Jim McGreevey v. Dina Matos McGreevey marital spat, with the ex-Mrs. McG claiming in a lawsuit that the former governor’s accusation that she’s a homophobe have hurt sales of her newly released tell-all book.

A book, by the way, that she’ll be in Red Bank to flog later this month.

The Associated Press has a story, carried by the Asbury Park Press, which reports:

A little over a month after filing libel and defamation claims against her estranged husband for calling her homophobic and saying she made anti-gay statements, Matos McGreevey has charged in court papers that his claims have negatively affected the sales of her recently released memoir.

Matos McGreevey said the former governor “used his experience in manipulating the media” by making his claims “shortly before the publication of (her) much anticipated memoir.”

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EXITING BENCH, STILL BANGING PAY DRUM

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With just a week to go in his short tenure as Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, James Zazzali of Rumson is continuing to lobby for higher judge’s salaries, telling an audience in Paramus yesterday that judiciary pay is “a disgrace,” according to a story in today’s Record of Hackensack.

Reprising remarks he made at Brookdale Community College in February, Zazzali told a gathering at Bergen Community College that, because of lousy pay, “Judges are leaving the bench; that hurts judges, but it also hurts the public. It’s an absolutely abysmal situation.”

The chief justice’s salary is $164,250, according to the Record; associate justices earn $158,500.

From the story:

Zazzali said that New Jersey Supreme Court justices have not had a raise in seven years, despite being the “third [or] fourth” most productive court in the nation. At the same time, he acknowledged that until the state’s budget problems were resolved, raises would be unlikely.

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