By Marcus Rayner | To the Editor, The Star-Ledger, 7/23/11
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 (“The costly consequences of dismissing a whistle-blower,” July 18). With a total budget of $16 million, this is a surcharge residents will feel for years to come if it isn’t 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 can absorb an eighth of its entire budget, however, threatens that status and its budgetary priorities. Schools are a legitimate beneficiary of municipal taxes. Lawyers’ fees and mishandling should not be given the same resources.
It goes without saying that a judge who’s earning $200,000 a year by racking up part-time gigs shouldn’t be on the bench while under the influence. Warren’s taxpayers don’t need a $2.5 million price tag to get this message. Nevertheless, New Jersey’s legal 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 one-eighth of their municipal budget, something about our justice system needs to change.