BARNEGAT/WARETOWN, NJ - Amid the coronavirus crisis, municipal courts have not been in session. Judge Philip M. Miller ,who presides in both Barnegat and Ocean Township shared some important details concerning the local courts.
With the courts closed statewide, municipal judges have not been hearing cases. However, they’re still busy at work thanks to the increase in domestic violence complaints. All requests for temporary restraining orders (TROs) in Barnegat and Ocean Township go directly to Judge Miller. Pre-pandemic, victims sought orders of protection in superior court victims sought orders of protection in superior court during normal working hours. Only after-hours requests were handled by the municipal judge.
“Municipal judges are now handling all the TROs,” advised Miller. “With superior court closed, the police refer all of the requests to us.”
Plans are now underway to reopen the courts via remote access. Municipal court sessions will resume by phone or video chat on May 11th. In the beginning, defendants represented by legal counsel will be heard first. Judge Miller anticipates that cases will be heard using platforms such as Zoom, where video allows the participants to see one another.
Additionally, the courts are looking for a means to accept more pleas without appearances, including by affidavits and a new web-based system currently being developed.
Without a doubt, the kinks need to be worked out. If the next step means moving on to people who represent themselves, what happens then? While attorneys may be able to speak with the prosecutor, pro se defendants won’t necessarily have the same access.
Traffic citations and other municipal court matters bring in a great deal of revenue to local communities. While that’s certainly part of the equation, New Jersey courts seek fairness, in addition to expediency when it comes to justice.