N.J. Constitutional Convention: Vol. 4, Page 492


STATE OF NEW JERSEY CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION OF 1947
COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY
Wednesday, July 30, 1947 (Morning session)

by law, probate and criminal causes."

I respectfully submit that if you are going to start out to have a unified court, have one. Have a court that has jurisdiction in every cause whatsoever. Permit its jurisdiction to be shared or supplemented by that legislatively invested in inferior courts, but don't permit the Legislature to take away any part of the general jurisdiction of your unified court.

The original jurisdiction of the Prerogative Court should not be abolished. In my practice, I have found it at times helpful and convenient to the public. First, where the county in which the decedent dies is remote from, say, the witnesses to the will and all interested parties. I had a case where the testatrix died in Sussex. Nobody interested in the estate had anything to do up there. It was much more convenient for all concerned to prove the will before a Vice-Ordinary sitting in Newark and carry on from there. Why should that be abolished?

Sometimes the county official acts extremely unreasonably. I had a case about 25 years ago where I went to prove a will in Burlington. The old lady whose will I was proving had become ill in California and hadn't come back in a number of years, but there was no question of her New Jersey domicile. The Surrogate in Burlington would not take the will for probate because the house in which she used to live had burned down, so, according to him, she had no domicile in New Jersey. He said he would issue a citation. I thanked him and walked around the corner, so to speak, to the nearest Vice-Ordinary and proved the will. Why should that be taken away?

But there is an even stronger reason. Although the lay members of the Committee do not realize it, there is a real question as to just how far a probate court can go in construing a will. They say that the probate courts are not courts of construction except for very limited purposes. If, however, we merge the Prerogative Court and the Court of Chancery and the Supreme Court all into one court, whatever name you give it, there you have your court of construction and your probate court all in one. I can see, therefore, no reason in favor of and many reasons against abolishing the probate original jurisdiction of the Prerogative Court and transferring it to the county courts. Of course, the county courts should have jurisdiction as they do now, and 99 times out of 100 it would be attended to by them, but I can see no reason why the other jurisdiction should not be available for the special and emergent case when it will really facilitate the administration of justice.

Now, in the criminal courts the same way. I am old enough to remember when - I think it was back under the governorship of Woodrow Wilson - the Supreme Court Justice supervened the county


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