N.J. Constitutional Convention: Vol. 4, Page 604


Part II


New Jersey's Systems of Courts

The work of administering decedents' estates is performed by the Surrogate, the Orphans' Court, the Prerogative Court and the Court of Chancery. Appellate jurisdiction is variously exercised by the Orphans' Court, the Prerogative Court and the Court of Errors and Appeals.

This enumeration does not exhaust the list of courts. The Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, for example, exercises a special type of criminal and civil jurisdiction.

The multiplicity of courts is matched by the variety of the functions of judges. The Chancellor, who conducts the Court of Chancery with the aid of the Vice-Chancellors, Advisory Masters and Special Masters, whom he appoints, is also the Ordinary and Surrogate General of the State. In his role as Chancellor, he presides over the Court of Errors and Appeals whenever appeals from the courts of law are to be heard, yielding his position to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, whenever cases coming from the Court of Chancery or the Prerogative Court are before the court. He is also a member of the Court of Pardons. This enumeration merely exhausts the catalogue of his constitutional offices and does not include the special functions conferred upon him by the Legislature.

The Chief Justice and his eight associate justices of the Supreme Court conduct the appellate terms of the Supreme Court and are also members of the Court of Errors and Appeals. Each justice presides over a circuit assigned to him, which may include one or more counties. In that capacity, he hears a variety of special and routine matters, charges grand juries, supervises lower court judges, occasionally tries capital offenses and dispatches all other business which may require his attention.

Judges of the Court of Common Pleas also hold the Orphans' Court and the Courts of Oyer and Terminer, Special Sessions and Quarter Sessions. Judges of the Circuit Court double as Supreme Court Commissioners. The Surrogate, when not presiding over the probate of wills, is the Clerk of the Orphans' Court. Except in Essex County, judges of the District Court may and do practice as lawyers, but not in their own courts. That is also true of the Common Pleas judges in smaller counties. Judges of the Court of Errors and Appeals who happen to be lawyers may practice law, but not in any court.

This diffuse and unintegrated court structure has been criticized by advocates of efficiency in governmental organization. It must be remembered, however, that judges and lawyers, who become familiar with the system, do not find it as confusing as laymen do. Moreover all proposals for change, from 1876 to 1944, have been defeated by the voters at the polls. Few, if any other states in the Union have preserved their judicial systems intact for more than

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