01.Roberto A. Rivera-Soto
Roberto A. Rivera-Soto (born November 10, 1953) is a former Associate Justice on the Supreme Court of the State of New Jersey, U.S.A. His seven-year term expired on August 31, 2011, and he was not nominated to another term. Since leaving the court, he has resumed practicing law, as a partner with the Ballard Spahr law firm, in their Cherry Hill, New Jersey, office.
The New Jersey Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct filed a complaint against Justice Rivera-Soto, only the second time in its 33-year history that the Committee filed against a Justice of the Supreme Court. The complaint alleged that Rivera-Soto used his influence as member of the Supreme Court to benefit his son in a dispute with his son and a classmate that escalated into a legal matter. Justice Rivera-Soto did not fight the complaint, and the Advisory Committee recommended that the Supreme Court censure the Justice for his actions. The New Jersey Supreme Court, with Justice Rivera-Soto not participating, accepted the report and recommendation of the Advisory Committee and censured the Justice. The censure, which is the second time the Court has censured a sitting member in more than thirty years, carried no suspension or reduction in pay, and ended the ethics matter.
On December 10, 2010, Rivera-Soto stated in an “abstaining opinion” in an otherwise non-controversial case that he would abstaining from voting on all Supreme Court decisions for an indefinite period due to his belief that the current Court membership violated the State Constitution. A majority of the Court responded in a concurring opinion that the makeup of the Court was constitutional. The dispute centered around the decision of Chief Justice Stuart Rabner in September 2010 to temporarily assign the Presiding Judge of the Appellate Division, Edwin Stern, to fill a long-term vacancy on the Supreme Court, which resulted from an ongoing stalemate between Republican Governor Chris Christie and the Democratic-controlled State Senate over an appointment to fill the vacancy. The New Jersey State Constitution authorizes the Chief Justice to make such temporary assignments when “necessary”; Rivera-Soto asserted that the temporary appointment was not “necessary” and was therefore unconstitutional. The president of the Senate called on Rivera-Soto to resign due to his announced intention to refrain from participating in Court decisions, as did the New York Times, saying that Rivera-Soto’s move “appear[ed] to be driven by politics, not principle.”
On January 3, 2011, Rivera-Soto sent a letter to Governor Christie indicating that he did not wish to be reappointed when his initial seven-year term on the Court expired in September 2011. On January 12, 2011, Rivera-Soto participated in a court decision and wrote an opinion indicating that he had reconsidered his position and would participate in future cases where Judge Stern’s vote did not affect the outcome of the case.
On September 1, 2011, Justice Anne M. Patterson was sworn in to succeed Rivera-Soto.