Christie plans to name DRPA head as judge

Robert Hanna has been a top-court nominee.
Robert Hanna has been a top-court nominee.
Posted: January 05, 2014

In his latest surprise judicial appointment move, Gov. Christie plans to nominate the embattled chief of the Delaware River Port Authority to serve as a judge.

He also appears to be throwing in the towel on getting Robert Hanna, one of his state Supreme Court nominees, confirmed and instead plans to nominate him as a lower court judge.

Christie filed a required pre-nomination notice Thursday with the state Senate for Hanna, as well as DRPA chief executive John J. Matheussen and five others. A copy of the notice, sent to key lawmakers, was obtained by The Inquirer.

"We transmitted to the Legislature our required notice of intent," Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Christie, said in a statement Friday. "No further comment on that or any other potential nominations."

The fate of a second Supreme Court nominee, David Bauman, a Superior Court judge from Monmouth County, was unclear Friday. Neither he nor Hanna could be reached for comment.

The nominations are subject to approval by the Senate, which may be an uphill battle.

"I'm humbled and greatly appreciative of the governor's nomination," Matheussen said. "It's something that I would be very interested in doing."

Matheussen has been head of the DRPA and the president of its PATCO transit system since 2003. He previously served four terms as a Republican state senator, representing the Fourth District. He graduated from the University of Dayton law school and was admitted to the bar in 1979.

His tenure at the bistate agency has been marked by controversy in recent years and attempts to oust him or reduce his six-figure salary.

Matheussen retained his post as a holdover position after his contract expired in July 2010. Christie said at the time that he would not permit Matheussen to be rehired for a third term until he was satisfied with DRPA changes.

In August, a scathing audit by the DRPA's inspector general faulted Matheussen for giving selective raises without following agency rules or getting proper approval from DRPA board leaders.

Matheussen disputed the findings. He declined Friday to comment on his possible departure from the DRPA.

"We're far from that. It's a nomination," Matheussen said.

Since taking office, Christie has been embroiled in a bitter battle with the Legislature's majority Democrats over the court's partisan balance.

It began with a decision by Christie ending a decades-long practice of reappointing justices to the court. His refusal in 2010 to reappoint John Wallace, a Democrat and the only African American on the court, touched off a firestorm.

Hanna, the Board of Public Utilities president, and Bauman have waited for confirmation hearings for a year. Their nominations expire Jan. 14, when the legislative session ends.

Democrats have confirmed one Christie nominee and rejected two other picks - the first time that has happened in modern New Jersey history.

In November, the Senate unanimously approved Judge Faustino Fernandez-Vina of Camden County to serve on the high court. The Cuban born Fernandez-Vina became the court's only Hispanic member.

There are two vacancies on the seven-member high court. The logjam has spilled over into Superior Court as well.

"Our primary concern should be filling the Superior Court, as these judges are charged with administering the day-to-day justice and ensuring our citizens receive their day in court in a timely manner," said Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D., Union), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The other pending nominees are Jeffrey Waldman and Donna Taylor, both Atlantic County lawyers; Timothy Lydon, executive director of the Senate majority office; Marcia Silva, South River public defender; and Peter Tober, former Christie counsel and executive director of the state Ethics Commission.

856-779-3814 @mlburney

This article contains information from the Associated Press.

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