A plan to restructure Trenton’s municipal court system met opposition from City Council members Tuesday, who took issue with the reduction of two city-employed prosecutors to contracted, outside lawyers as a means for cutting costs and increasing efficiency.
Assistant Business Administrator Dennis Gonzalez and City Attorney Denise Lyles presented the plan, saying it would save the city $97,000 in salary and provide for the hiring of a Chief Public Defender, and meet increased demands for public defenders by the city’s inhabitants.
Those new positions and the reduction in costs would come through the prosecutor changes, which would replace salaried positions with contracted ones making around $200 a session, Mr. Gonzalez said.
But for council members, the question seemed to be at what cost to the success of the court system would the new system come.
“I think you need that continuity, and the coverage,” said Councilman Jim Coston of the two lost full-time prosecutors positions.
Mr. Coston also dismissed claims that the system was similar to that in place in many other New Jersey municipalities, telling Mr. Gonzalez to look at other cities, like Newark and Camden, to get a better idea of how the system should be restructured.
“We are not Princeton,” Mr. Coston said.
Chief Prosecutor Lyle Hough has somehow subverted the addition of the two other full time prosecutors, according to Mr. Gonzalez, who said Mr. Hough was given the assistance of the two additional prosecutor positions to allow him to actually work in the courtroom, instead of being inundated with clerical work.
Mr. Hough does not actually work in the court itself currently, Mr. Gonzalez said.
When Council President Paul Pintella said the new system of contracted prosecutors instead of full time employees knowledgeable with Trenton’s courts was equal to the old system, some council members said he was simplifying a more complex issue.
“They’re not the same,” said Councilwoman Cordelia Staton.
Mr. Pintela said at the conclusion of Tuesday’s meeting that the council should begin discussing possible amendments to the city’s residency ordinance, which has become an issue because of Police Director Joseph Santiago’s continued, flagrant violation of that law.
City employees are required to live in town, through the law, so Mr. Pintella’s comments point to the emergence of ideas of possibly changing to law to make a special exception for cases like Mr. Santiago’s.