STATE OF NEW JERSEY IN THE INTEREST OF M.P. A-0303-16T2In this juvenile delinquency prosecution, the Family Part sua sponte transferred venue to another vicinage without notice to the juvenile defendant or the State. When the State objected, the judge held a hearing and stated the transfer was occasioned by receipt of a confidential report filed by an judiciary employee pursuant to Judiciary Employee Policy #5-15, "Reporting Involvement in Litigation," (effective June 1, 2016) (the Policy). In a subsequently filed brief statement of reasons, without identifying the employee or his or her relationship to the litigation, the judge concluded that given the employee's access to the Family Automated Case Tracking System (FACTS), location in the courthouse and interaction with the public, the Policy required the transfer of venue.
The court granted the juvenile's motion for leave to appeal, which the State supported, and reversed. Our Court Rules presume venue is laid in the county of the juvenile's domicile, a presumption further supported by provisions of the Code of Juvenile Justice. Additionally, the Crime Victim's Bill of Rights require the court to consider the inconvenience to the victim occasioned by the transfer of venue.
While the Family Part Presiding Judge may order the transfer of venue for good cause over the objections of the juvenile and the State, the court must provide notice of its intention and an opportunity to object beforehand. Additionally, the court's power must be exercised in service to the goals of the Policy, i.e., "to maintain [the Judiciary's] high degree of integrity and to avoid any actual, potential or appearance of partiality or conflict of interest in the adjudication or handling of all cases," and the court must consider whether a less drastic measure, such as "insulating the [court employee] from the matter," would accomplish these goals.