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FR&A Analysis: Why Did Prasad Want Judicial Salary Survey, Including Rodriguez In Mid-Term?

Why did Township Councilman Rajiv Prasad ask for a salary review of area Municipal Court Judges?


Township Councilman Rajiv Prasad asked for a review of area Municipal Court Judge salaries in early 2018, including that of presiding municipal court judge Hector Rodriguez, barely a year into Rodriguez’s current term.

The review, requested several months after Prasad steered a township landlord to Rodriguez for help with a tenant issue in 2017, came around the time budget appropriations for 2018 were being formulated.

The review showed that Rodriguez earns the highest per-session rate of any municipal court judge among several neighboring towns.

And while emails show that Prasad asked for the salary review and corresponded with the judge about hours he worked, what’s still not definitively known is why Prasad requested the review in the first place. That’s because Prasad (D-At Large) refused to answer written questions about the request.

The request came in early February 2018 to Township Manager Robert Vornlocker via Township Councilwoman Kimberly Francois, according to emails reviewed by the Franklin Reporter & Advocate. Francois said she could not remember why Prasad asked her to request the salary survey, but suggested it came through her because she was the chair of the Council’s Administration sub-committee.

In response to the request, Vornlocker conducted a salary survey of area judges. On Feb. 9, 2018, he submitted his results to Francois and Mayor Phil Kramer, finding that Rodriguez – one of two township municipal court judges – received a higher per-session rate than did Municipal Court Judges in Bridgewater/Somerville, Branchburg, Hillsborough/Manville/Montgomery, Bound Brook and North Plainfield, as well as the other township Municipal Court Judge.

Specifically, Vornlocker’s review found that:

  • Bridgewater/Somerville combined Municipal Court’s Judge William Kelleher was paid $860 per session for eight sessions per month plus one hour on Fridays;
  • Branchburg Municipal Court Judge Kelleher was paid $830 per session for four sessions per month;
  • Hillsborough/Manville/Montgomery’s former Municipal Court Judge John Richardson was paid $730 per session for eight sessions per month;
  • Bound Brook Municipal Court Judge Michael Fedun was paid $866 per session for four sessions per month, and
  • North Plainfield’s Municipal Court Judge John Richardson was paid $885 per session for eight sessions per month.

Rodriguez, the township’s Presiding Judge, was paid $914 per session, for four sessions per month.

The township’s other Municipal Court Judge, Maureen Vella, was paid $747 per session for four sessions per month, according to Vornlocker’s survey.

Francois forwarded the survey information to Prasad and Ron Jordan, the township Democratic Party chairman, on Feb. 11, according to the email review.

On Feb. 13, Francois emailed Vornlocker to tell him the information was forwarded to Prasad and Jordan, “who were inquiring.”

The Open Public Records Act request response which yielded these emails did not include an email from Prasad to Rodriguez concerning the salary survey, but it does have an email from Rodriguez to Prasad, sent Feb. 15, 2018, with the subject line “2018 Court Calendar.”

In the email’s attachment, Rodriguez supplied Prasad with his scheduled court sessions for 2018.

The schedule has Rodriguez working on Tuesdays during the year; in notes at the end of his packet, Rodriguez wrote that the 45 Tuesday night sessions for which he was scheduled could last for an average of six hours each.

“Avg. session in the county is 4 hrs,” Rodriguez wrote. “Therefore, the Tuesday sessions could be considered 1 1/2 sessions or a total of 67 sessions solely for Tuesdays.”

Rodriguez also noted that he was scheduled to work 13 video conferences and six special sessions during the year.

Rodriguez was appointed Municipal Court Judge in 2014 and again in 2017. His current term ends this year.

Both of Rodriguez’s appointments were moved by Prasad.

There’s no indication in the emails if Prasad responded to Rodriguez. Rodriguez’s salary was not changed.

Vornlocker said that he alone would have the responsibility to negotiate the judge’s salaries, and that he did not discuss Rodriguez’s salary with anyone.

Vornlocker also said that no one approached him about a raise for Rodriguez.

Kramer said in an email that, “It is not unusual to review the salaries of our employees.”

Rodriguez is currently defending ethics charges filed against him before the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct. The judge is accused of making an improper remark to a defendant during an open court hearing.

Neither Prasad, Jordan nor Rodriguez responded to questions for this story.

 

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