NEW JERSEY (PIX11) — New Jersey’s chief justice suspended most civil and divorce trials in six counties because the state doesn’t have enough judges.

The suspension begins Feb 21, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said Tuesday. It will impact trials in Hunterdon, Somerset, Warren, Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties. 

“At this time, there are 69 vacancies throughout the trial courts – more than one out of every six positions statewide,” Rabner said. “That imposes heightened responsibilities on sitting judges who handle thousands of proceedings and motions each month. In addition, for the past three years, the court system has operated with an average of more than 50 vacancies. That situation, along with the effects of the COVID crisis, has contributed to delays in handling individual cases and substantial increases in backlog.”

Rabner said justices in the state need to prioritize criminal and juvenile delinquency cases. They’ll also be focusing on time-sensitive cases and trials involving complaints of domestic violence. 

“We recognize that when the doors of the courthouse are closed – even partially – people entitled to their day in court suffer real harm,” he said.

If judicial positions aren’t filled soon, some types of trials could be suspended in other New Jersey counties, Rabner warned. He called for officials to address the “vacancy crisis” as quickly as possible.