PEAPACK AND GLADSTONE NJ - Where there were once three municipal courts, there is now one. Until the end of 2014, Bernardsville, Bedminster and Peapack-Gladstone each maintained a municipal court. Municipal courts have jurisdiction of a wide array of motor vehicle offenses, misdemeanors and municipal ordinance violations. The most serious offenses involve driving while intoxicated, drug possession and domestic violence.
Under New Jersey law, each municipal court must employ a judge, a prosecutor, a public defender and at least one court administrator.
During 2014, Bedminster and Peapack-Gladstone identified possible savings by operating a shared municipal court. The two municipalities entered into negotiations, and agreed to share municipal court services. Mayor William Muller and then-Councilman Jerry Gunning represented the borough in negotiations with Bedminster. As a result, the two neighboring towns entered into an agreement to share court services.
In late 2014, Assignment Judge Yolanda Ciccone approved the agreement, and the shared court became a reality.
As a result, Peapack-Gladstone no longer operates its own municipal court. The Borough no longer employs a Judge of the Municipal Court, a Municipal Prosecutor or a Municipal Public Defender. According to Peapack-Gladstone Mayor William Muller, the arrangement has created the desired savings for Borough taxpayers.
"The borough has saved over $55,000 dollars in the first year," said Muller. "The shared court has brought a structural savings to the borough's budget while still bringing top-notch service to the public."
The Borough continues to employ longtime court clerk Vicky Magnulson. Magnulson works with two other court clerks in the court's administrative office at the Bedminster Municipal Complex located on Miller Lane in Bedminster.
In 2014, the final year in which Peapack-Gladstone operated its own court, the borough expended a total of $106,409.68 to operate the municipal court, while generating $87,376.38 in revenues from fines and penalties, resulting in a net loss to the borough of $19,033.
In 2015, the borough expended only $58,800 for operating expenses and received a $6,000 credit toward the salary paid to Ms. Magnulson, while generating $89,250 in revenue. The borough no longer pays the salary of the prosecutor, the public defender or the judge, according to Muller. Those expenses are paid by Bedminster.
The municipal court meets on Tuesdays at the Bedminster Municipal Complex at One Miller Lane. The violations bureau is located in the same complex adjacent to the courtroom and the police department.
Bedminster, Bernardsville and Peapack-Gladstone are not the only Somerset County towns to move to shared courts in recent years. The twenty-one towns in the county now operate only nine courts where they once operated twenty. Hillsborough and Montgomery formed a shared court three years ago. Manville joined that court in January 2016. North Plainfield, Watchung and Green Brook formed a shared court in 2013. Bridgewater and Somerville also joined their courts in 2013.
EDITOR'S NOTE: JUDGE KATHERINE HOWES IS THE WIFE OF TAP INTO SOMERSET HILLS EDITOR TIM HOWES.