Howes & Howes, Attorneys at Law

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Local Justice:  The life of a municipal court

The portion of the municipal government in New Jersey that touches the most people is not the mayor or the city council, but the municipal court.  The municipal court in New Jersey handles thousands of cases each year, cases that effect the rights of victims and of the accused.  The municipal court is a vibrant court, usually staffed by dedicated professionals who are in constant contact with the public, and who work under constantly changing rules.

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The municipal court in New Jersey provides local justice.  In most cases, the local city, town or borough council appoints the professionals who staff the court.  The judge must be a licensed attorney-at-law with a minimum of five years in the practice of law.  The judge serves a three year term.  The prosecutor is a lawyer appointed by the town who represents the State of New Jersey.  He or she presents the cases to the court.  The public defender is an attorney who represents indigent defendants.  The judge, prosecutor and public defender are part-time employees who usually have their own legal practice, and may serve the same role in other courts.

The court administrator and her deputies are full-time employees.  They are the unsung heroes of the municipal court who process the thousands of summonses that come through the municipal court, and account for millions of dollars of fine money and bail money.  The court administrator and her deputies are there working behind the scenes to make the court work.  They are professionals who have to deal with phone calls and in-person contact from litigants who are often confused and sometimes cranky.

If you have ever been to a municipal court, then you have seen the dozens of litigants who appear to get some justice.  Many litigants are represented by private attorneys who specialize in municipal court practice.  The scene is often a crowded, chaotic courtroom.  The court staff, the judge, prosecutor and public defender have to bring order to the chaos, and do their best to handle each and every case in the fairest manner possible.  By the end of the session, the chaos is gone, and the staff is tired.

Municipal court is a court of limited jurisdiction.  The municipal court has original jurisdiction over the following types of matters:

1.  All traffic offenses under Title 39 of the New Jersey Statutes: The most serious of these offenses is driving while intoxicated.  The most common offenses are speeding, driving with a suspended license and careless driving.

2.  All disorderly persons and petty disorderly persons offenses: These are minor offenses under the New Jersey Criminal Codd.  The most common of these offenses are simple assault, possession of marijuana and simple trespass. 

3.  Municipal ordinance violations: Municipal ordinances are part of a code passed by the town council.  These ordinances vary from town to town.  The most common of these ordinances that see their way into the municipal court are building maintenance regulations and zoning violations.

4.  Domestic violence: The municipal court has the authority to enter Temporary Restraining Orders under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act.

Both partners at Howes & Howes have extensive experience in municipal court.  Currently, Katherine Howes serves as the Judge of the Municipal Court in the Borough of Bound Brook.  As such, she no longer represents defendants in municipal courts.  W. Timothy Howes can represent litigants in municipal court, but only outside of Somerset County.

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