ASSEMBLY JOINT RESOLUTION
STATE OF NEW JERSEY
INTRODUCED APRIL 12, 2018
Assemblywoman CAROL A. MURPHY
District 7 (Burlington)
Assemblywoman GABRIELA M. MOSQUERA
District 4 (Camden and Gloucester)
Assemblyman ERIK PETERSON
District 23 (Hunterdon, Somerset and Warren)
Assemblyman Johnson, Assemblywomen Vainieri Huttle, Timberlake, Lampitt, Assemblymen Chiaravalloti and Houghtaling
Establishes the “New Jersey Domestic Violence and Legal Access Task Force.”
CURRENT VERSION OF TEXT
As reported by the Assembly Judiciary Committee on March 18, 2019, with amendments.
A Joint Resolution establishing the “New Jersey Domestic Violence and Legal Access Task Force.”
Whereas, Every day, indigent pro se parties enter New Jersey courts seeking relief from abuse. Often these people are unable to advocate effectively for themselves or articulate a sufficient basis to support the relief they are seeking from the court. Similarly, other indigent parties must defend themselves against allegations of domestic violence. In both instances, these litigants are often ill-equipped to articulate the merits of their positions to the court because of a language barrier, lack of understanding of the statutory standard, or for some other reason; and
Whereas, Survivors of domestic violence rate the filing of an application for a restraining order as one of their most effective tools to stopping domestic violence, second only to leaving the abuser. Studies confirm that access to counsel in restraining order proceedings can make a substantial difference in the outcome; and
Whereas, According to one study, 83 percent of victims represented by an attorney successfully obtained a restraining order, as compared to just 32 percent of victims without an attorney; and
Whereas, Increasing a victim’s chance for obtaining a restraining order is one of the most straightforward ways in which legal assistance can reduce domestic violence. Cases involving domestic violence are often difficult and complex, and survivors without proper legal representation are frequently further victimized by unfavorable outcomes; and
Whereas, New Jersey has long recognized a right to counsel for impoverished defendants facing consequences of magnitude, even in civil cases, such as loss of motor vehicle privileges or a substantial fine in municipal court, child support enforcement proceedings, involuntary commitment proceedings, Megan’s Law tier classification hearings, proceedings regarding abuse, neglect or termination of all parental rights, and loss of liberty, such as the ability to own weapons or to move freely; and
Whereas, Inexplicably, a defendant who is prosecuted for an act of domestic violence is not entitled to counsel even though facing a host of consequences of magnitude, which may include immediate loss of the right to occupy a residence without any relief from financial obligations related to that residence; monetary payments and penalties; seizure of firearms and the loss of the right to possess same; and suspension of the right to see his or her children; and
Whereas, There is no principled reason why an indigent facing loss of motor vehicle privileges or a substantial fine in municipal court would be conferred the right to counsel, but an indigent involved in a domestic violence matter would not have a similar right; and
Whereas, Domestic violence 1[proceeding implicates] proceedings implicate1 fundamental rights, 1[effects] effect1 consequences of sizable magnitude, and the provision of counsel protects a core constitutional provision-the guarantee of “fundamentally fair” adversarial proceedings. Absent such a safeguard, domestic violence litigants are left impermissibly vulnerable; and
Whereas, By expanding the right to counsel to include both sides in a domestic violence restraining order action, this State can ensure that indigent litigants will not suffer consequences of magnitude without first receiving the protection of counsel; now, therefore,
Be It Resolved by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey:
1. a. There is established the “New Jersey Domestic Violence and Legal Access Task Force” to study the nature, extent and consequences of unmet legal needs of State residents in domestic violence matters.
b. The purpose of the task force is to examine, on a Statewide basis, the impact that the lack of access to legal counsel in domestic violence matters is having on the ability of State residents to be protected from physical and emotional harm, and the impact on other residents who have to defend themselves against allegations of domestic abuse.
2. a. The task force shall be comprised of 1 161 members, as follows:
(1) Two public members appointed by the Governor, one of whom shall be a representative of a pro bono program organized by a law firm located in the State, and one of whom shall be a State resident who has been a pro se litigant who has appeared as a plaintiff in a domestic violence matter in the New Jersey State courts;
(2) Two public members appointed by the 1Governor upon recommendation of the1 President of the Senate, one of whom shall be the representative of a non-profit organization dedicated to the services and assistance of victims of domestic violence and one of whom shall be a State licensed and certified family law attorney;
(3) Two public members appointed by the 1Governor upon recommendation of the1 Speaker of the General Assembly, one of whom shall be a director of a legal clinic program of a law school located in the State and one of whom shall be a State resident who has been a pro se litigant who has appeared as a defendant in a domestic violence matter in the New Jersey State courts;
(4) One member appointed by the Chief Justice, who is a 1retired1 judge of the Superior Court 1who was previously1 assigned to the Family Division 1[or had been assigned to the Family Division in the three-year period prior to the effective date of this joint resolution]1;
(5) The 1[Chief Justice] Administrative Director of the Courts1, or 1[the Chief Justice’s] his1 designee;
(6) The Public Defender, or the Public Defender’s designee;
(7) The Attorney General, or the Attorney General’s designee;
(8) The dean of Seton Hall University School of Law, or the dean’s designee;
(9) The co-dean of Rutgers Law School Newark Campus, or the co-dean’s designee;
(10) The co-dean of Rutgers Law School Camden Campus, or the co-dean’s designee; 1[and]1
(11) The executive director of New Jersey Legal Services, or the executive director’s designee1;
(12) A representative of the New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence; and
(13) A representative of Partners for Women and Justice1.
b. The task force may meet and hold hearings at the places it designates during the sessions or recesses of the Legislature. The task force shall meet at the call of the co-chairs, and the presence of 1[eight] nine1 members of the task force shall constitute a quorum at any meeting thereof.
3. The task force shall be co-chaired as follows: one co-chair shall be the Attorney General, or the Attorney General’s designee, and the other shall be appointed by the Governor from among the public members and shall serve at the pleasure of the Governor.
4. Vacancies in the membership of the task force shall be filled in the same manner as the original appointments were made. The members of the task force shall serve without compensation, but shall be eligible for reimbursement for necessary and reasonable expenses incurred in the performance of their official duties within the limits of funds appropriated or otherwise made available of the commission for its purposes.
5. The Attorney General’s Office shall provide staff and related support services as the task force requires to carry out its work.
6. The task force shall be entitled to call to its assistance and avail itself of the services of the employees of any State, county, or municipal department, board, bureau, commission, or agency as it may require and as may be available to it for its purposes, and to incur such traveling and other miscellaneous expenses as it may deem necessary for the proper execution of its duties and as may be within the limits of funds appropriated or otherwise made available to it for these purposes.
7. The task force shall present a report of its findings and recommendations to the Governor and, pursuant to section 2 of P.L.1991, c.164 (C.52:14-19.1), to the Legislature no later than 18 months after the organization of the task force. Such recommendations shall include suggested mechanisms to: (1) secure access to justice and legal representation in domestic violence matters by increasing the availability of legal assistance with domestic violence matters throughout the State; (2) institute a review of New Jersey’s Rules of Professional Conduct and Unauthorized Practice of Law rules with the purpose of identifying revisions that expand the ability of law students to provide pro bono assistance to persons of limited means; and (3) encourage increased pro bono service by the State’s legal community.
8. The task force shall dissolve three months after presenting the report.
9. This joint resolution shall take effect immediately.