JERSEY CITY – The fate of Judge Carlo Abad to become the first Asian and the first Filipino American Chief Judge in Jersey City has been put on hold following a vote of the City Council on Feb. 13.
A vote by his fellow Fil Am who is in the City Council could have tipped over to Abad’s favor but Councilman Rolando Lavarro denied Abad of what could have been another momentous event for Filipino Americans, not only those in Jersey City but also in the tri-state area. They have been following this developing story when it was first reported last week.
Incumbent Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy appointed Judge Abad together with Radames “Ray” Velasquez, a former judge, last Thursday. Abad was supposed to succeed outgoing Chief Judge Nesle Rodriguez who was appointed by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to serve as Superior Court Judge. Velasquez, on the other hand, was to replace Abad.
“Knowing where I have come from and my history with the Filipino community in Jersey City, it is a decision I struggled with and did not take lightly,” said Lavarro in a statement.
“While it pained me and am fully aware that my vote prevented history from being made last night, my vote was based solely on doing what I thought is right and in the best interests of all of Jersey City. As we develop and propose a process quickly, it is my hope that the making of history may have only been delayed,” added Lavarro.
But Fil Ams who were in attendance at the council meeting, some of them long time community leaders in Jersey City, wore a sad face and were disappointed with Lavarro who gave the same statement before he voted. With Lavarro’s crucial vote, he effectively denied both appointed judges the opportunity to serve.
“Rolando should have voted for Abad,” said Lita Pena, one of the community leaders present. Carmen Flores, who worked with Lavarro previously, echoed the same sentiment as Pena’s.
Peter Brennan, Viola Richardson, Michael Sottolano, and William Gaughan voted for Abad and Velasquez. David Donnelly, Nidia Lopez, Diane Coleman, Steve Fullop and Lavarro voted against.
When votes were called, those who voted against the motion expressed the same concerns as everyone else’s, which was seen as a clear political move to block Mayor Healy’s appointments.
But Lavarro explained that “judicial appointment process needs to be changed so the Council isn’t making its decision based solely on a resume and to minimize politics as much as possible. This advice an consent should include more than a review of a resume,” he said.
“A resume is not sufficient for advice and consent. We’d like to know more, “ echoed Fullop, a mayoral candidate.
Lavarro accused Mayor Healy’s administration of “cronyism at its worst,” referring to Velasquez who he said has been “repeatedly appointed whenever the corrupt political machine has sought to fill a vacancy with a ‘qualified” Hispanic. He was appointed as a Municipal Judge, Freeholder, Councilman, and Deputy Mayor.”
William C. Matsikoudis, Corporation Counsel, said that the mayor did not create these vacancies but the exigencies of service. In the absence of Rodriquez, the outgoing judge, work assignments could be affected. “Justice delayed is justice denied, “ he said.
“In order to treat all candidates fairly, my colleagues and I determined that we should crate transparent standards for judicial appointments. It will be a process that moves beyond the simple review of resume and opens the door for the best and the brightest become judges,” Lavarro said.
“Until that process is in place, we have to treat all of our candidates the same, whether Filipino, Hispanic, Black, White, etc., which is why I voted the way I did,” Lavarro added.
Even with Lavarro’s explanation, it did not stop some of those in the audience to step out of the council room in disgust to what was happening. Even non-Filipinos approached this reporter and commented why Lavarro was doing this to his fellow Filipino.
Although, Viola Richardson’s vote did not matter to reverse the decision, she made an impassioned and stinging speech that ran counter with Lavarro but in support of Abad and Velasquez.
She said that as members of the council it is up to every member to vet the person being appointed. A process is already in place. Anyone is free to investigate the truthfulness of a resume but that the appointment of a chief judge should not be delayed. “Let us move on,” she emphatically told the council members as the audience applauded.
Richardson and Lavarro ran together for Councilman-At-Large in the special elections and won.
“This decision of Lavarro may affect him,” said a Fil Am who did not want to be identified in this story. “And we might lose two of our own – Lavarro, one who has made history and Abad who was denied of that,” the person added.
"The Council's rejection of these two highly qualified candidates for judgeships in our great Jersey City Municipal Court is an ugly illustration of how politics has overtaken certain members of our City Council," Mayor Healy said in a statement.
He also said, “not only have they deprived the Municipal Court and our community of two tremendous public servants, but they have also deprived our Asian community, and in particular our Filipino community, from a history-making moment with the appointment of the first Filipino and Asian Chief Judge of the Jersey City Municipal Court. These are two judges who have previously been approved by the Hudson County Assignment Judge and our City Council, and this will slow up the administration of justice and in the long run will cost our city necessary revenue.“