A judge who has failed to rule on dispositive motions for more than 500 days in a family law case has apologized for the delay, but won’t be pinned down on when a decision will be issued.
Mercer County Assignment Judge Mary Jacobson expressed regret for not completing her review of the pending motions in a letter Tuesday to plaintiffs counsel in Kavadas v. Martinez. The case is a constitutional challenge to New Jersey’s practice of revoking driver’s licenses from parents who are in arrears on child support without holding a hearing. But Jacobson would only says she would “do my best to complete the decision as quickly as possible.”
The judge’s letter came two days after David Perry Davis wrote to Jacobson asking why she was taking so long to rule in the case. Davis said that if the judge did not name a date when the ruling would be issued, he would consider the non-action a de facto dismissal, and would seek appellate review. The parties have been waiting since a hearing on cross-motions to dismiss on Aug. 23, 2016.
“The complexity and importance of the many issues you have brought before the court in the above referenced lawsuit require careful consideration. I regret that I have not completed my review of the pending motions, but I am not able to provide you with a date certain by which the decisions on the motions will be rendered,” Jacobson wrote to Davis.
Case law supports an application to the Appellate Division where no decision is issued for such a long period, Davis, a solo practitioner in Hopewell, New Jersey, said in his Jan. 6 letter to Jacobson.
Davis said on Thursday that he would take action if there’s no decision in the case in another month or so. In the meantime, he said he would seek out advice on his chances of success in pursuing the de facto dismissal route.
On Monday, Davis said that case law does not specify what amount of time should be considered unreasonable for parties to wait on a ruling, but he said that the irreparable harm caused by the delays in the present case should be a factor.
Davis said the judge told him in September 2017 that a ruling was imminent. He wrote her another letter on Nov. 15, 2017, about the status of the ruling and she did not reply.
The suit claims the state’s practice of suspending driver’s licenses for nonpayment of child support without conducting a hearing is unconstitutional and contrary to the legislature’s intent.
Named as defendants in the suit are the Motor Vehicle Commission and Raymond Martinez, its chief administrator; the state of New Jersey; John Hoffman, who was acting attorney general at the time the suit was filed; and Natasha Johnson, director of the Office of Child Support Services in the state Department of Human Services.
Davis said the suspension of a driver’s license in such cases is “self-defeating” because it may prevent a parent from going to work, applying for jobs or seeing his or her children.
The program stems from a 1996 federal law requiring states to toughen their child support procedures in order to qualify for certain types of federal aid. The Motor Vehicle Commission has asserted that it is merely following the law as written.
Davis’ motion seeks a ruling finding that the state Motor Vehicle Commission violates a statutory requirement that it conduct a hearing upon receiving an order for suspension of a driver’s license.
Jacobson did not respond to a request for comment. The Attorney General’s Office, which represents the defendants, declined to comment on the case.