Kudos for Judge Miller

The month of June has, to date, seen just one published opinion by the Appellate Division (discussed here), and none by the Supreme Court. That dry spell will likely end tomorrow. Meanwhile, however, a somewhat unusual unpublished opinion of the Appellate Division last week is worthy of note.

The Appellate Division not infrequently affirms trial level rulings substantially for the reasons given by the judge below. Almost invariably, though, the Appellate Division adds some of its own remarks. Sometimes those remarks consume a number of pages. That does not mean, of course, any criticism of the trial level judge. On the contrary, any affirmance substantially on the opinion below is a compliment to the trial level judge.

State v. Harris, 2024 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1016, 2024 WL 2827957 (App. Div. June 4, 2024), was an appeal from a denial of post-conviction relief. The panel (Judges Enright and Whipple) stated that it “affirm[ed] for the reasons expressed by Judge W. Todd Miller in his twenty-five-page, well-reasoned written decision of the same date.” That language was not very different than verbiage that appears in other affirmances on an opinion below. But after stating the questions that defendant had presented on appeal and briefly summarizing the facts and procedural history, the Appellate Division said “Having reviewed the record, we conclude—as Judge Miller did—that none of defendant’s claims has any merit. See R. 2:11-3(e)(2). We have nothing to add to Judge Miller’s thorough and thoughtful opinion.”

For the Appellate Division to have “nothing to add” to a trial judge’s opinion is a level of praise for that trial judge that goes beyond the more usual affirmances on an opinion below. Kudos to Judge Miller!