Councilman Mark Ciarrocca has been nominated to a state Superior Court judgeship by Gov. Chris Christie, the governor’s office announced Tuesday morning.
Ciarrocca, who represents the third ward, was one of 14 Superior Court judges nominated by Christie statewide and one of four judicial appointments the governor announced in Union County. If confirmed by the Senate, Ciarrocca will need to resign from the Town Council, along with dropping his bid for a third term.
Ciarrocca, an attorney in Union Township, has been long rumored to be interested in a judicial appointment from Christie, with speculation the nomination could come this month. Patch has learned that Ciarrocca's nomination comes as part of a bipartisan deal struck by county Democrats and Republican to fill several judgeships in the county.
Ciarrocca did not have comment when reached at his Union Township office early Tuesday afternoon. Patch has learned a small ceremony regarding the judgeship may occur during Tuesday evening's Town Council meeting.
Governors typically file a long list of judicial nominations in June, to get the nominees confirmed by the state Senate before the Senate recesses for the summer and fall campaign season. Following the projected June 30 legislative recess, the Senate is not expected to be in session until after the November election.
If confirmed, Ciarrocca will likely resign his Council seat in June to take the judicial oath of office. The Westfield Republican Committee will then have 15 days to submit three nominees to complete the remaining months of Ciarrocca’s term to the Republican dominated Council. The Council will then have 30 days to appoint one of the nominees to complete Ciarrocca’s term. If the Council cannot agree on a new member in that 30-day period, the Republican Committee can then choose a new councilmember within 15 days.
The Republican Committee will also have to nominate a replacement for Ciarrocca on the November ballot for a full four-year term on the Town Council. Ciarrocca has been locked in a reelection battle with Democratic nominee Matt Sontz and Independent candidate Greg Kasko. The race has been considered the town’s premier race, given the three-way nature of the race and third ward related issues, including the long standing debate over the placement of a pedestrian activated stoplight on Central Avenue near the intersection with Clover Street.
It is likely that the Republicans will designate the new councilmember as the Republican nominee for the full term.
The last time the Council had to fill vacancies was in 2005 when former Mayor Greg McDermott resigned and Mayor Andy Skibitsky, who was the Republican nominee in the 2005 mayoral election, was appointed by the Council to fill the mayor's seat. Republican Darielle Walsh, who was the Republican nominee to replace Skibitsky in the third ward seat he vacated to become mayor, was then appointed to the seat by the Council. Walsh lost the 2005 election for a full term to Haas.
In 2003, when Democratic Councilman Kevin Walsh resigned to become a federal prosecutor, the Council named Haas to fill the seat for a year and nominated him for the full term. Ciarrocca captured the seat in this election.
Ciarrocca was first elected to the Council in 2003, defeating Democrat Dave Haas and reelected in 2007 when he defeated Sontz. He is currently chairman of the finance policy committee and is a former chairman of the public safety, transportation and parking committee. He currently serves as the town’s acting mayor and has been liaison to the Recreation Commission and the Downtown Westfield Corporation.
Ciarrocca has long been viewed by local political observers to be one of the most powerful members of the Council. He has long focused on budget, public safety and recreation policy during his tenure, along with changing traffic patterns along the Central Avenue corridor, which has been one of his top issues. Ciarrocca has been under fire by two residents, Adina Enclescu and Maria Carluccio, in the last year for the placement of a stoplight on Enclescu's Central Avenue front lawn. The two have asked Ciarrocca and Skibitsky to move the light to the intersection with Clover for 10 months.
Ciarrocca has said in the past that the light's placement will be evaluated based on safety. The light's placement is currently under review by the police department. During the debates over the light, Enclescu said she was not notified about the light being placed on her lawn, saying that Ciarrocca did not distribute notifications. Ciarrocca has said that his two sons passed out notices. Ciarrocca and Skibitsky have also said the final placement of the light was made by the county government and not the town government.
A resignation by Ciarrocca will also open up the acting mayor and finance chairman’s posts. Mayor Andy Skibitsky will be responsible for filling both jobs. Councilman Sam Della Fera currently serves as finance committee vice chairman and Councilman Joann Neylan is currently the alternate acting mayor.
Ciarrocca's nomination is for a seven-year term in the judgeship. At the end of the initial term, a judge can be renominated by a governor to serve on the bench until their 70th birthday. As a Superior Court judge, Ciarrocca will likely be assigned to hear cases in either the civil, criminal or family divisions, while sitting in Elizabeth.
Ciarrocca is the fourth Westfielder to be appointed to a judgeship in the last two years. In June 2009, former Gov. Jon Corzine appointed former Democratic Councilman to a judgeship. Just before the end of his term in January 2010, Corzine named , the husband of a former top aide to a Republican assemblyman, and to state judgeships. All three were confirmed by the Senate and presently sit in Elizabeth.
Ciarrocca is not the only Republican politician from Union County locked in a three-way reelection campaign to be nominated for a judgeship by Christie on Tuesday. Kenilworth Mayor Kathi Fiamingo, who is facing two opponents in her bid for a second term, was also nominated for a judgeship by Christie. Fiamingo also serves as the vice chairwoman of the Union County Republican Committee.
In addition to Ciarrocca and Fiamingo, Christie reappointed Superior Court Judge Fredric Kessler, a Cranford Democrat, for tenure on the bench and nominated Berkeley Heights resident Regina Caulfield, an assistant Union County prosecutor, to a judgeship.
Check back for updates as this story develops.