TRENTON, NJ - On Aug. 13, the New Jersey Senate confirmed eight state Superior Court judges to help ameliorate the current state of the Essex County courts, which have been facing backlogs, and, at times, the temporary suspensions of trials in civil and family courts.

This vote happened about a year after eight others were appointed by senators. The delay was due to a political impasse between parties. Last year, there were 21 open positions. Now, with the appointing of the first eight and now this group of eight as Essex County Superior Court judges, only five more positions stand in the way of Essex County being at full capacity.

Those appointed on Thursday include the following:

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  • Russell Passamano of West Orange: a partner at DeCotiis, FitzPatrick & Cole since 2005, in the litigation and bankruptcy practice groups.
  • Bridget Stecher of Fairfield: a solo practitioner focusing on real estate, probate and estate planning, matrimonial and family law, and municipal court matters, since 1995.
  • Nora Grimbergen of West Caldwell: a partner at Hoagland, Longo, Moran, Dunst & Doukas, since 2002, in the environmental/toxic tort department.
  • Mark Ali, of Verona: an assistant prosecutor in the Essex County Prosecutor's Office from 1989 until his retirement in Nov. 2014, who then became a consultant and board member for two nonprofits involved in the prevention of domestic violence and child abuse.
  • James Paganelli of Verona: has been Essex County counsel since 2008 and executive director of the Essex County Improvement Authority, since 2003.
  • John Zunic of Cedar Grove: a solo criminal defense attorney in Fairfield and Astoria, NY, since 1995, who also serves as the municipal prosecutor for a number of towns including Cliffside Park and Fairview. In addition, Zunic has also served on the Cedar Grove Township Council since 2009, and is currently the Deputy Mayor of the town.  According to TAP into Verona/Cedar Grove, “The state constitution states a Superior Court judge cannot hold elected office, so Zunic will be forced to vacate his council seat, though his term does not expire until 2017.”
  • John Gizzo of Nutley: a solo practitioner since 2008, who was a partner at Rubino & Gizzo before going solo.
  • Lisa Adubato of Cranford: a solo commercial litigator since 2012, who, though from Union County, should be appointed to the Essex County bench.

“Appointing eight more Superior Court judges in Essex County has to help,” said Champ Goldman, the managing partner of Harkavy, Goldman, Goldman and Gerstein, a defense law firm formerly located in West Orange, that is now located in West Caldwell.

“What is happening right now is that civil cases are not moving and almost no cases are being tried in family court,” said Goldman, a criminal attorney. “And, the criminal system is really overloaded because there are not enough judges to hear the cases.”

He added, “There are more criminal jury cases tried in NJ than in any other place in the country except for Los Angeles. With the lack of judges, some criminal cases can sometimes take years to be heard.”

Goldman said that of the eight people recently appointed, he is quite familiar with Ali, who he calls “a very competent and fair person.”