By Marcus Rayner | Hunterdon County Democrat
A jury recently awarded a $2.5 million judgment against Warren Township, population 16,000, over its handling of a report the Council received about an intoxicated municipal judge on the bench. With a total budget of $16 million, this is a surcharge residents will feel for years to come if it is not overturned on appeal.
Warren Township previously ranked in CNNMoney.com as one of the best places to live in the United States. The fact that a single judgment has the power to absorb 1/8 of its entire budget, however, threatens that status and its budgetary priorities. Schools are a legitimate beneficiary of municipal taxes. Lawyers’ fees and mishandling, however, should not be given the same allocation of resources.
It goes without saying that a judge who’s earning $200,000 a year by racking up part-time gigs in Warren, Bridgewater, Watchung and Bound Brook shouldn’t be on the bench while under the influence. Warren Township’s taxpayers don’t need a $2.5 million price tag to get this message.
New Jersey’s civil justice climate allows the negligent to avoid responsibility and slap residents with the bill. When a reported action or inaction is enough to cost honest taxpayers 1/8 of their municipal budget, something about our justice system needs to change.