A Rarity: A Published Appellate Division Opinion Issued Per Curiam

State v. Palma, 426 N.J. Super. 510 (App. Div. 2012).  Just as we do not often see a not-for-publication opinion signed by its author, it is not usual for an opinion issued for publication to be designated per curiam.  This decision, by Judges Lihotz, Waugh and St. John, involved a municipal court guilty plea to careless driving, sentencing by the municipal judge, an appeal to the Law Division for de novo review, and imposition by that court of the same sentence that the municipal court had chosen.  The Appellate Division, however, reversed and remanded to the Law Division for resentencing.

As the panel noted, in cases arising out of appeals from municipal court that reach the Appellate Division, the Appellate Division normaly does not consider the actions of the municipal judge, but reviews only the ruling of the Law Division.  Here, however, there were allegations that “the municipal judge’s personal views infected the record, including his factual determinations, which the Law Division relied on to some extent.”  The panel went on to discuss some of the inappropriate occurrences in the municipal court, and remanded the case to the Law Division for resentencing under the principles of State v. Moran, 202 N.J. 311 (2010).  Moran had been referred to below, but the panel ruled that it had not been properly applied in light of all the circumstances.

Though the panel went out of its way to be judicious in discussing the municipal court proceedings, it may be that the sensitivity involved in the panel’s less than happy views of the way the municipal judge conducted the proceedings in that court led to the issuance of this decision per curiam.