New Jersey Municipal Court 101
An overview and introduction to the practice of law in New Jersey’s Municipal Courts. The Municipal Courts encompass many different areas of practice including, traffic, criminal, and local ordinance violations. Practicing in the Municipal Courts is a great way for newly admitted attorneys to gain immediate litigation experience and for solo and small firm attorneys to supplement their practices.
Jillian Kuehl - Okay, so we are officially recording. Okay. All right. So hello. My name is Jillian Kuehl, and I am a program attorney here at Quimbee. And today I have the distinct pleasure of welcoming Joshua Reinitz. Who's going to give us an overview and introduction to the practice of law in New Jersey, Municipal Courts, hi, Josh.
Joshua Reinitz - Correct. Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here.
Jillian Kuehl - Great. We're so excited to have you. Josh has been practicing for almost 20 years and is currently a partner at DeCarlo, Martino, Mactimus and Reinitz where his practice centers on the defense of clients facing charges in the municipal and superior courts of New Jersey. Josh has served as both a municipal prosecutor and municipal public defender throughout New Jersey. He is a former chair of the municipal court practice section of the state bar. He's currently serving on the Supreme Court Committee on Municipal Court Practice and is a member of the Board of Attorney Certification for Municipal Court. We are so welcome to have you Josh and could not find someone more qualified.
Joshua Reinitz - And it's my pleasure to be here. Happy to do this.
Jillian Kuehl - Great. Well, we'll just get right into it. So tell me Josh, the Municipal Courts in New Jersey, they obviously play a very unique role in the overall structure of our courts. So what types of matters does the Municipal Court have jurisdiction over and what are the more typical types of cases?
Joshua Reinitz - Sure, so in New Jersey, the Municipal Courts cover a very broad scope of cases, including traffic offenses, criminal offenses that are disorderly persons and below as well as local ordinance violations and even fish and game, which are always the interesting ones. The most typical cases that attorneys get involved in are generally lower level drug possession, domestic violence cases, and DWI, and more significant traffic cases.
Jillian Kuehl - Okay, and so with all of these different types of cases and matters are attorneys necessary for cases in the Municipal Court. And if so, which cases?
Joshua Reinitz - You're entitled to an attorney in New Jersey, if you have what they call consequences of magnitude and that's evolved over time, but generally if you're facing a license suspension, you're facing jail time, criminal charges, or if you have fines of more than $750, you're entitled to an attorney, every Municipal Court has a public defender that will be given to you if you qualify. In my practice, I think you like anything else, I think you have to really judge whether the amount of time you're gonna put into a case and the cost is going to cost you and cost a potential client is worth bringing in an attorney. And some clients are willing to pay for the convenience of having an attorney and other people are happy to go to court by themselves. So I think you really have to take it on a case by case basis.
Jillian Kuehl - Okay, and so given the scope of the courts what would be some strategies for, I guess, client acquisition in that case?
Joshua Reinitz - So obviously if we're gonna practice in this area, you need clients, that helps. So something's got to pay for college for the kids. So I think there's different ways. And I think it's really generational. How it's looked at the generation before me was very much no advertising. You build referral networks. You find other attorneys that can refer you cases, you refer cases to them. And I think as things have gone forward, I think we've evolved to a more advertising friendly business. New Jersey is not like Florida, where you drive through Florida and you see huge billboards everywhere and TV commercials and things like that. But there are certain attorneys who do a great job of social media advertising, internet advertising.
And then there's your usual networking opportunities. Whether you join bar associations, you go speak to different groups. And then the most controversial is direct mail. Anybody in New Jersey that's ever gotten a speeding ticket knows that within three days you get 15 or 16 letters from a variety of attorneys offering services. And that's certainly an option for people looking for high volume business. And you'll hear opinions on both sides, whether it works or doesn't work. I think you really have to look for what's most comfortable for you and what you feel comfortable doing. And then also realize that you shouldn't be stuck into one particular rut or one path, you should really mix how you look at client acquisition and constantly look for ways to evolve.
Jillian Kuehl - Okay, so once you've gotten your client right, they're ready to pay you, how do you structure out your fees?
Joshua Reinitz - So every attorney is different. The one thing I always try to do, and I think we're compelled by the ethical rules, is to make sure we get a retainer in writing from the client that sets out expectations. It sets out what your retainer fee covers, because when you have cases like Municipal Court sometimes people think that the fee they're paying you covers appeals or recovers expert reports or things like that. And you want to be upfront about it. 'Cause I think the last thing you want is a client at a critical point in the case, making a decision based on whether they can pay you additional fees. And I think if they know those fees upfront, then it's sort of baked in to how they make decisions. I generally do flat fees for these types of cases. I think it's the simplest way to do it. If clients balk at flat fees, you can always offer them to do hourly, but I don't think hourly works well in Municipal Court for the attorney or for the client. And you know, the biggest issue you're gonna run into, especially at times like these, where people are not working as much and there's issues is do you accept payment plans? Most attorneys I know will accept payment plans, but it's also a personal thing depending on how you want to run your business.
Jillian Kuehl - Okay. And then once you've gotten, okay, let's say you get your client and you're ready, you've gone over a fee structure. Can you kind of walk us through like the full client consultation and intake process and how you do that?
Joshua Reinitz - Sure. So everybody's different in how they handle their initial intake or their client consultation. I think the things you have to keep in mind is do you want to charge a fee? I know attorneys that do charge fees because they feel like if they don't charge a fee, there's a lot of people that'll come that are basically fee shopping and just want to take the attorney with the lowest price. They feel like if they charge a fee and they credit that fee towards the retainer, that they're able to find clients who are more able to pay moving forward in today's day and age, you have to determine whether you want to have your meetings in person, whether you want to do them over the phone, whether you want to do them on Zoom. Also, whether you're willing to give out your cell phone, or if you have a cell phone number just for work, or if you forward your calls or things like that, they're all important things to really think about. I prefer obviously do everything in person in terms of meeting with clients. I think you get a better feel for the case and you get to know people better. Sometimes that's not possible. So you make do with what you can.
I also think the most important thing you can do in that first meeting is to manage expectations. You want to advise your client of what their potential penalties are, what likely outcomes are, and to really explain to them that until you see discovery documents, information that is difficult for you to fully assess the case. You always want to give yourself a little room because believe it or not, clients do not always tell you the truth. And I think you really have to, I would make a checklist and really think about things that you need to look at, whether it's immigration status, collateral issues, meaning are they a licensed doctor? Are they a flight attendant? Are they, dental hygienist even, anybody who's licensed through the state or the federal government, any type of small charge may affect their ability to continue their profession. So while certain penalties may not normally affect a client it may really affect these people and you don't want to have to try to undo something after it's done. One quick example for me was I had a client who's a pharmaceutical salesperson. And if she was convicted over DWI, she would not be able to go to Canada for 10 years or so. Her main office was in Toronto. She flew out there twice a month. So for her, she needed a different result than another client who didn't drive at all, but just didn't want to go to jail and was willing to take whatever suspension they could get. So I think you really have to understand your clients and figure out what their needs are and figure out how to get there.
Jillian Kuehl - Absolutely. And so kind of pivoting off of that, moving forward, once you have your client consultation, what's your strategy there. So what comes next, I guess. And does that differ maybe based on your client's situation like you were saying before?
Joshua Reinitz - So I think the one thing you want to do upfront is you want to trust your client and build a rapport, but you also want to verify things and the easiest way to verify things, especially if you're dealing with DWIs or criminal charges, you want to see if you can figure out the person's prior record by getting an abstract or criminal history, do those sorts of things. So you know upfront what you're getting yourself into. The first thing you want to do is send a letter to the court, entering your appearance. I always ask them to enter a not guilty plea, hoping to waive the first appearance, save us both a trip to court and you request discovery and the discovery you should request in that first letter, I try to do a very generic request. I cite the court rule and I ask for any audio or video evidence. And the reason I do that is you want to have that request on record and be able to show that you made that request in case down the line any video's destroyed, because then at least you have on the record that you requested from the state, the video that you needed. So it's very important to at least put that in the first letter.
Jillian Kuehl - Absolutely. And so after that, after you first letter and the discovery, how does the process go from there? I guess what comes next?
Joshua Reinitz - So at that point, I try to see what we get. So, and it's really important that you understand that the prosecutor is responsible for the discovery, not the court, not the court administrator, not even the police, you should be going as an attorney through the prosecutor. My first demand is usually a very general demand. I wait and see what I get. And then once I see what I get, and I see that certain things are missing based on how it strategically helps or hurts the case. I'll then send a followup letter saying, hey, I have your discovery, but I want X, Y, and Z, and then move from there and hope that the prosecutor is able to get me what I need. Otherwise you address that in court.
Jillian Kuehl - Okay, do you have any tips specifically for discovery in Municipal Court cases? Is there anything specific that you look for?
Joshua Reinitz - Sure, so I think if you have a blood or urine DWI, or you have a drug case, you're obviously looking for lab reports, 'cause they need to be able to prove that the substance was what they said it was, or that the substance was present in the blood or urine. There's a case, state versus Heisler that talks about what you're entitled to and what the timeframes are for that, always remember you have 10 days to object to a lab report, but according to Heisler that 10 days doesn't start until you get the full documents from the lab. So if I get a lab report, I'm following it up with a request for all the charts and graphs and underlying reports. There have been many instances nationwide where labs have gotten in trouble for not testing materials the way they're supposed to. So I always want to just mostly to cover myself and to cover my client. I want to see what I can find in those documents. So I'll always ask for the underlying charts and graphs, chain of custody, those things.
I think you also want to ask for as much audio and video as you can. I've found that audio and video recordings often are dispositive. If my client does not look good on the audio and video, I can take it to them and say, hey, we need to resolve this. 'Cause if a judge sees this video it's not gonna go well for us. On the other hand, if the video contradicts what's in the reports or things like that, I can take the video or the audio to the prosecutor and say, hey, I think you want to look at this with your officer. I don't think you want to put your officer on the stand with his written report versus the video. So video is crucial.
The other thing you want to ask for are notes, when you're doing certain types of cases, whether it's a drug case, where there's a search or even a speeding ticket or driving while suspended or a reckless driving, if the officer's making notes on a ticket or the officer's making notes when they're giving tests to the defendant, it's crucial to have those notes because those notes will say things that may not end up in the final report that also are great for cross-examination, there's this as a case state versus WB, that requires that the notes are preserved. You should look at that and cite that if you're looking for notes, state vs Stein, state vs Richardson are two cases within the last five or six years that talk about audio and video and the requirements of the state to provide those. So those are your lifelines for those types of cases.
Jillian Kuehl - So what happens, and I guess, what are your options, if for some reason the discovery that you've asked for is not provided to you, or let's say it has been destroyed, as you mentioned earlier, what do you do in that scenario? And has that ever happened to you? You have an example?
Joshua Reinitz - Sure, so I think the first thing you need to do is always ask yourself, what are you trying to get out of something, if it's a DWI case, are you trying to get rid of the reading? And if so, how do you go about doing that? And one of the key things is what they call Holup orders, That comes from a case state versus Holup, where if discovery is not provided within a reasonable amount of time, you can ask the court to enter an order pursuant to Holup that requires the state to provide discovery within X number of days. And if they don't to include a sanction, some courts will allow you to put in the order that the case will be dismissed. Most courts will say with appropriate sanctions, some less for written report, some will do it on the record, but either way Holup orders are effective in trying to make sure that you get discovery in timely manner. So your client is not sitting there with the case hanging over their head forever. And if they're not able to provide discovery appropriate sanctions for it.
Jillian Kuehl - Absolutely. And so let's okay, let's move into pretrial. So we've asked for discovery, we're moving into the pretrial phase. There are what, several Municipal Courts in New Jersey, how does that impact how you practice?
Joshua Reinitz - I think one of the things I've learned is that throughout the state there really are, culture's not the right word, but there's really regional differences in how law is practiced, especially in the Municipal Courts. And I think you need to, if you're going into a court that you're unfamiliar with, or a judge that you're unfamiliar with, I think you need to spend some time to understand what is normal practice in those courts. What do those prosecutors look for? What are they willing to do? What are they willing not to do? Some courts will, are willing to downgrade certain point level tickets to no point tickets with lower fines and other courts. Other courts take the position that they're not willing to use certain downgrades. It's better to know that going in. 'Cause the worst thing you want to have happen is you end up in court and pro se client is getting the exact same deal that your client is getting because you didn't realize that they only give one certain downgrade. And then your client looks at you and says, why am I paying you when this guy's getting it all by himself? And you know, I could have done this by myself. So I think understanding where you're at is crucial. It's also a good way to build up referral partners and a good way to learn the state. And it's always good to have people to bounce ideas off of. So I think utilizing your network is crucial and figuring out how to navigate the state, especially because the regional differences are so great.
Jillian Kuehl - And do you have any suggested strategies for how you would go about that if you're unfamiliar with that region or with that specific municipal prosecutor?
Joshua Reinitz - So I think the first thing you have to do, well, I think joining the Bar Association is a great tool. There's a great list serve with regards to the Bar Association where they, people can ask each other questions back and forth and people will answer them. If you have questions about judges or courts, there's people that you can go to throughout the state, that'll help you out. I think when you go into that first meeting though, with the municipal prosecutor, the thing to keep in mind is they have on average 50 cases on the calendar, you have one or two, you're gonna know the case better than they will. In many cases, they won't even have seen the reports. They don't know much more than on the tickets. You need to use that to your advantage because if you can frame your case from the beginning in a way that they understand it easily and they understand what resolution you want and why you want it resolved in that manner. And more than that, why it makes sense for them? You're three quarters of the way there. Prosecutors generally are looking for help to resolve the cases and they want to, they want to know why, it's like any other negotiation. You want both sides to walk out feeling like it's a win-win. So you need to explain to the prosecutor why something is good for them, not just good for your client. And I think if you can justify that and you can frame it from the beginning, then the case has a certain posture that it stays at. Too often you come into a case, the prosecutor says, hey, what do you think about this? And your answer is, I don't really know much about the case. I haven't really looked at it yet. I just got the discovery, I would think and then the prosecutor is gonna throw out a generic resolutions that may not fit your client. And then that being their first impression, it's hard to change them and get them off of where they are. So to me, I think that first time you talk to the prosecutor's crucial.
Jillian Kuehl - So if the flip side of that happens, so let's say you're not able to find a resolution with the prosecutor or you really want to make sure you're protecting your client's rights in a specific scenario. What motions should you be considering moving forward? And then what considerations go into filing those motions?
Joshua Reinitz - Sure. So I think, a couple of things, the court rules in New Jersey indicate that any motion in Municipal Court can be made orally. Most judges will want motions in writing just so they know what's there. And so they have something in their file, but usually it works best if you ask, I tend to try to ask the judges when they want motions by, some attorneys will put boiler plate motions in their letters of representation. They'll put a motion to suppress, a motion to dismiss, a motion for a jury trial. I don't like to do that because I think it puts you on a very adversarial posture, but it does solve the issue of you forgetting to file something or you filed something later. My general philosophy is I'd like to brief as much as possible because municipal court judges are part-time. And I think if you can show them the law in the way you want them to see it quite often, you have a chance for them to rule for you. And it also separates your motion from the other motions that you hear. The most common motions are motions to exclude evidence or motions to dismiss for lack of prosecution or even a motion to suppress.
Jillian Kuehl - And are there any motions that are particularly unique in Municipal Court?
Joshua Reinitz - Well, so the only motion you're required to file in writing is the motion to suppress, court rule 7-5. The thing to keep in mind with the motion to suppress is the court rule also says that you have to copy the county prosecutor. I think that goes back to when motions to suppress were only heard at the county, even if it was Municipal Court, but nonetheless, theoretically, you're supposed to copy the county prosecutor and it has to be in writing. Most judges, once you file the motion will give you a briefing schedule. The one consideration you have to have when doing a motion to suppress is that most courts will do it at the time of trial. So the issue is do you go through the motions to suppress and then have them make a ruling? And if they rule against you, are you willing to incorporate all that testimony? Or do you want to go back and start over? Generally, I would advocate for incorporating because if you're cross-examining someone you're usually not gonna be able to get better answers the second time, but there may be reasons why you want to not incorporate whether you want to have your client testify. Whether certain things were admitted, evidentiary wise, that would not have been had it been during the actual trial. So there's a lot of reasons, but you have to clearly delineate it. State vs. Gibson is the case to look at for that. So something to keep in mind.
Jillian Kuehl - Are there any ways to resolve the matter without a conviction that might not be an immediate dismissal?
Joshua Reinitz - Yeah, so if you are, so a lot of times we're presented with clients that are charged with things that they may or may not have done. And this really only deals with criminal charges, traffic offenses, you can't really use any type of diversionary program, but if you have people charged with criminal offenses, there's usually two or three programs that they can take advantage of. There's also specific programs for veterans. If you have a client that's a veteran, you should contact the court and talk to them about their veterans programs.
Additionally, there is some pilot drug court programs around the state that are just starting. Where if you have client who has addiction needs, there may be specific courts that they can get into. That'll help them deal with those issues. Newark also has a program they call the community solutions program, I believe. And you go into it with a prescribed set of things that you have to satisfy. And if you satisfy all of them, most of the time they'll dismiss the charge completely, but that's a pilot program that's a Newark, but it's supposed to deal with people with social needs. Social service needs more so than criminal issues. Whether it's helping people get jobs, helping people find therapy, treatment, whichever. Everywhere else, you can either take part of what they call a conditional discharge, which is only for drug and paraphernalia cases, stuff in Title 35, Title 36. That in that case you can, you enter into the conditional discharge program. You go on probation for roughly six months to a year. If you generally, if you don't get arrested or test dirty or violate your probation, then the charges will be dismissed and can be expunged. The thing to look at with conditional discharge is you're only allowed one in your life and same with pretrial intervention, which is the Superior Court analog to it. So be very careful putting a younger client into conditional discharge because if they have issues or you think they may have issues down the road to burn their one diversionary program on disorderly persons drug charge may not be in their best interest. Give me one sec, sorry.
The conditional dismissals, the second program for a conditional dismissal, the client has to plead guilty to the charge. And then once they plead guilty, they similarly go on probation. And if there's no issues while they're on probation, then the charges dismiss. Be careful with conditional dismissal. If you have nonresident non-citizen clients, because the plea itself can trigger immigration consequences and also they're stuck with the police. So if they violate within that year, then you just go straight to sentencing. They've already pled guilty. So be careful with the conditional dismissal. Excuse me. The other program is what is known as an ACD, a germane and contemplation of dismissal, generally, in some cases that may not qualify for a conditional dismissal or if their neighbor disputes, sometimes with domestic violence cases, courts will put cases off for 30 to 90 days, make the parties come back in 90 days. If they still want to dismiss the case at that point, then it will be dismissed. Sometimes they do that in cases where there's restitution. So if the restitution's paid in that period of time, then the case will be dismissed. And the last thing to keep in mind is if you have disputes neighbor to neighbor or things that when there's cross complaints, where you think that mediation is helpful, a lot of times the courts can order you to neighborhood mediation, which is helpful in solving cases where there seems to be an ongoing pattern of issues.
Jillian Kuehl - Are there any specific conditions that need to be met before you could go into a neighborhood mediation? Or how would that work?
Joshua Reinitz - It seems to differ court to court, generally it's for citizen complaints. Most of the times you see it is when there's cross complaints against each other or in a one-time I had a client who couldn't get along with their neighbor. They had a shared driveway and there was issues about who was parking on which side of the driveway. One neighbor was upset because the other neighbor's sprinkler got their car wet. And there were watermarks on the car. I'm not making that up, it's true. And you know, those kinds of things, you send them to mediation. If you have a skilled mediator, they can meet with both sides and try to hammer out an agreement that both sides will respect because if these people have no other charges in their life hitting them with a $150 fine and saying, stay away from the other people. I mean, they live next door to each other, so there's no staying away from.
Jillian Kuehl - So they'll talk again.
Joshua Reinitz - Right. And generally if they're invested in the decision, it's easier at that point for to be able to resolve it and get a decision that people are willing to follow.
Jillian Kuehl - Okay, have you seen that, I guess advance at all since you've been working are people more leaning towards doing things like these programs like a neighborhood mediation or a conditional dismissal, has that sort of advanced since you've been practicing?
Joshua Reinitz - Yeah. I think there's been a trend towards finding ways to seek resolutions without necessarily convictions that will hamper people's futures and to try to find collaborative decisions. I think there's a recognition that the harshness of criminal convictions affects people always. And you see with the, excuse me, sorry, you see with the expungement laws that they've made it easier to expunge things. And I think that's a recognition of that it's harder to find jobs. It's harder to find housing. It's harder to find a lot of things with these convictions. So a lot of these mediations and trying to address, excuse me, the underlying issues.
Jillian Kuehl - You want to just, we can take a second. Yeah.
Joshua Reinitz - Sorry. It must be the COVID. Alright. I'm good.
Jillian Kuehl - Okay.
Joshua Reinitz - Sorry. So I think finding ways to address the underlying issues, whether it be addiction issues, mental health issues, or anger management issues, finding ways to address those have cut down on recidivism and made for better resolution. So I think there's definitely a path towards that. We're not where we need to be, but I think we're moving in that direction.
Jillian Kuehl - That's fantastic, and I think it's great all of these additional options now and the trend toward them, I guess let's pivot backwards. You know, if you're not able to resolve your matter that way or with using a plea agreement are there other considerations that you need to take into account when you move forward?
Joshua Reinitz - So if you can't end the case, right. And so you're most likely going to trial. So things to keep in mind, I guess if you're going to, if you think you're gonna be going to trial, is am I charging another fee, has the fee been paid? Do I need an expert? If so, where am I getting my expert from, what's the cost? And then I like to try to streamline my trials and try to figure out what the important issues are. Sorry, give me one second.
Jillian Kuehl - No problem.
Joshua Reinitz - Geez. You would think I don't talk for a living, right? Sorry. So I think important to try and streamline the trials. I think when you're dealing with a part-time judge and a part-time prosecutor, last thing they want to do is spend more time than they need on something. And I think you get the benefit of the doubt. If you can show them that you're not gonna make baseless arguments, you're not gonna be there just to waste their time. But in this particular case, the issue is operation or the issue is constructive possession and let's streamline it. Let's stipulate that my client was intoxicated, but my position is they weren't driving. And I think if you can streamline it that way, it allows you to focus on the issue, allows you to get a judge that understands the issue and allows you to really marshal your resources in the best way possible.
Jillian Kuehl - And are there any special requests, excuse me, that you need to be aware of to protect your client at either in the time of the plea or at the sentencing?
Joshua Reinitz - So I think the things that you need to worry about are if your client has a driver's license in a state that you're not licensed in, I always tell them, I'll try to find out information, but I don't work, I don't have license in that state. You need to find a local attorney and I'll help them find a local attorney. If, excuse me, if you have a dismissal, New Jersey has an expedited expungement program ask the court for the expungement and then the arrest and everything's expunged immediately. If you have a case involving a car accident, rule 762 talks about civil reservations, meaning that the plea that your client entered can't be used against them if there's a civil case, which helps resolve a lot of car accident issues.
And then like we talked about before you want to look into, does my client have professional licenses? How will a conviction affect those licenses? And a huge issue now is immigration issues. As the federal administrations change the focus on certain immigration crimes and certain aspects of immigration law change also. So I find that one of the best referral sources and it's vital also to have friends that are immigration attorneys, they have clients that always have issues. And you need to have someone that you can call or refer your clients to and say, hey, my client's a resident alien. My client has a green card. My client has no status. My client has this status and they have a reckless driving. If they plead guilty to the careless, instead of a reckless will that affect it? You need to have someone, you can bounce those ideas off of. And it's always good to refer your clients out to one of those people. One of those attorneys, I always put in my retainer that I do not practice immigration law. It's not a specialty. And if you need a specialty of mine, and if you need an immigration attorney, I'll help you find one. I think it's vital that we do that.
Jillian Kuehl - Are there any charges or anything that you can not have a plea bargain for? Like, is there any cases in Municipal Court that you can't plea bargain?
Joshua Reinitz - So guideline four of the rules of court prohibits plea bargaining in DWI cases. And in a certain drug cases, there's a movement to try to change that now. But as of right now, that that's the way it is. So a prosecutor may dismiss a DWI, but they can't plea bargain it. So they can't say if you plead guilty to a reckless, I'll dismiss the DWI. Now I mean, there's a lot of legal fictions. Yeah. I mean, you have prosecutors that'll come out, they have to come out on the record and say, judge, I can't prove this beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore I'm dismissing this and they're going to plead to the reckless. So, but just knowing that again, it goes back to knowing your court and your prosecutor. There are some judges that will routinely not accept pleas. If there's dismissals that they think are plea bargains, when they're not allowed, likewise in drug cases, you're not allowed to plea bargain certain drug cases, but that usually is gotten around by how the cases are downgraded and what sort of charges they're downgraded to. So that's not as big a deal, but the DWI one is huge. So in New Jersey, I can plea bargain a first degree murder case, but I can not prove bargain a DWI.
Jillian Kuehl - Fascinating. What about sentencing? Are these cases treated differently in Municipal Court than they might be in other courts?
Joshua Reinitz - So generally, excuse me. So sentencing, you know what, give me one second. We're way ahead, right, time wise?
Jillian Kuehl - Yeah, sorry, that's why I'm like trying to come up with a little bit.
Joshua Reinitz - No problem. All right, sorry. I'll go back. So in terms of sentencing, one of the things you have to really be mindful of is what your client could be facing, what the mandatories are. And also what's discretionary. Fortunately, a lot of the fines are generally discretionary, but when comes to motor vehicle points or certain suspensions, they're not discretionary at all. And it's important that you understand that and you're able to express that to your client because again, managing client expectations is a huge part of how you continue to grow your practice.
Jillian Kuehl - So if you're unable to resolve the case by plea or dismissal and you're in trial and you're unsuccessful, let's say, what are your options?
Joshua Reinitz - It never happens.
Jillian Kuehl - Amazing, so you don't even know if you can answer this question.
Joshua Reinitz - I'll tell you what though, anybody who tells you they never lost a case, never tried a case. But yeah, no, it happens to the best of us. That's why they made the appeals, right?
Jillian Kuehl - Exactly. So what do, do you have options regarding appeal in this case?
Joshua Reinitz - So the nice thing about about New Jersey law is you get a do over, in appeals from the Municipal Court to the Superior Court. The things to keep in mind is there's a very bright line, 20 day limit to file your appeal. And there's a specific way you have to file the appeal. The original goes to the Municipal Court, the copy goes to the Superior Court. A lot of people do the opposite. It's really essential that you do it that way. The other issue is the standard on appeal is de novo. Meaning that there is no deference given to the Municipal Court, which the Municipal Court judges do not like. But the only thing that they're given preference for is their credibility determinations.
So, and the other thing to keep in mind when you are quoting clients fees for appeals, or when you're just going through appeal issues, you don't get to try the case over, the case is basically re-argued based on your trial transcript. And I think it's really important to understand that while you're trying the case, I think you need to talk to your client before you go to trial, explain to them what the pros and cons are of going to trial and talk to them about whether they're willing to appeal if they lose, because you want to preserve as much as you can for appeal. And you may argue things differently or want different things on the record. Even if you know that the judge in front of you, isn't buying it, you may be able to argue it later on. So you may make evidentiary choices. You may make a different record based on whether your client wants to appeal. Doesn't want to appeal. Things like that.
There's a case, state vs Robertson that's within, I don't know, the last five or six years, maybe a little longer that says because the standard is de novo, that courts are supposed to stay any license suspension after a conviction if you appeal from municipal to superior, because the standard changes, once you go from superior to appellate division, there's no longer a presumption that you get the stay of the license suspension. So that's something to keep in mind and also to advise your clients. With regard to jail time. So like on a third offense, DWI, it's mandatory 180 days in. And you are entitled to bail pending appeal of that third offense. So that's something worth keeping in mind, especially if you have a client who's facing a third and you know jail time is coming if they're convicted, most courts will take them in right away. You have to file the appeal and then get the Superior Court to give bail. So you want to set all that up ahead of time. So you know what you're getting into because you don't want your client in jail any longer than they have to be on those kinds of cases. 'Cause if you win the appeal, they're never getting those days back that they were in jail.
And the other thing that you want to look at or think about are post-conviction relief applications, which you have five years from the day of sentencing to bring those applications. However, there's some case law, excuse me, state vs Bringhurst. And some other cases that will allow you to expand that time if you can show a good cause. And a lot of us get those types of calls from clients that say, hey, 10 years ago, I pled guilty to something. Now I got arrested again. Now I'm facing jail time. The one before was nonsense. Can you get me out of it? And the first thing you should tell them is well it's beyond five years. So I don't know if I can, but I'll look into it. And then if you can come up with a good reason, you usually can get another court to look at it.
Jillian Kuehl - Are you finding that most of your clients choose at the outset that they want to appeal? So are you strategically planning for an appeal most of the time.
Joshua Reinitz - I generally advise them that if they're willing to go to trial, they should be willing to appeal the case.
Jillian Kuehl - Do they listen to you?
Joshua Reinitz - Excuse me?
Jillian Kuehl - Do they listen to you?
Joshua Reinitz - Most of the time, because you know, I'll advise them ahead of time what I think the cost will be to go to trial, including having to appeal it if we have to appeal it, a lot of times, I mean it's kinda like you think of like trial is kinda like like karate in "The Karate Kid", right? Mr. Miyagi says you only use it when you have to, you only go to trial when you have to, a lot of times you're going to trial because either your client or the prosecutor are not being reasonable or they're just no benefit at all to resolving the case. You know, if you have a client facing they've changed the law, but in the past, if you were charged with the second offense, DWI, whether you pled guilty or you were found guilty after trial, you're looking at a two year loss of license. So why would I walk in and plead guilty to a two year loss of license when I can go to trial, see what happens and still get it. So there's a lot of strategic decisions that go into it in terms of having your client understand the appeal. I think you have to explain to them. And a lot of times it's look, I can keep your license for another three to six months if you appeal it based on the law and to some people that's attractive, to other people it's not. It really, I think a lot of it comes down to knowing your clients, knowing what the result they need is. And then working to get to that result.
Jillian Kuehl - Do you have any tips or tricks for dealing with the, like you said before, an unreasonable client or even an unreasonable prosecutor?
Joshua Reinitz - So difficult clients, I think you can usually tell at the initial interview, if your clients are gonna be difficult, in my opinion, or in my experience, you have to set boundaries right away. You have to set expectations and you have to, you can't be afraid to tell them no, or to set boundaries. If you have the client that calls you every day and wants to know if something new's happened I think you have to set those boundaries quickly. One of the best rules I ever heard was that you cannot, you never want to be someone's third attorney. Right?
Jillian Kuehl - Right.
Joshua Reinitz - So my experience is, a client can have, can just not get along with someone and say, you know what, this isn't what I want it to be. I'm gonna go to someone else. And that's Kuehl. Like it happens, but once they start doing it two and three times, it's usually the problem's with them. And whether you're saying to yourself, you know what, I understand this person's gonna be a problem, but I'm getting compensated enough that I'm willing to deal with the problem. That's a personal decision you have to make. But I think you really have to set boundaries. In terms of prosecutors. I think you learn over time, which prosecutors are more difficult and you also can set your client expectations and say, look, wasn't my fault you got pulled over in X town instead of Y town. We got to deal with what it is in X. And these are the players in this town. This is what they're willing to do. This is what we're gonna try to do, but you can expect whatever. Now, if you have a prosecutor who's completely unreasonable, you hope you have a reasonable judge. If you have a reasonable judge, you can sort of make the prosecutor seem unreasonable in front of the judge sometimes you get what you want. Sometimes you have to appeal it. Sometimes, you just, you don't get what you want.
Jillian Kuehl - Any final thoughts, other than sometimes you don't get what you want, or is that where we want to leave it?
Joshua Reinitz - That's a father of three daughters right there.
Jillian Kuehl - Words of wisdom.
Joshua Reinitz - That's where my hair went. I think most of our attorneys in New Jersey are municipal or small firm attorneys. And I think Municipal Court is a great way to build your practice and expand your practice. It's also quite a bit of fellowship within the group, which I think is important for solo and small firm attorneys, especially in this day and age where everything's by Zoom and everyone's so disconnected. I think it's a great way to build your practice and always have something to fall back on. And it's something you can do with very low overhead, which is great for people, especially starting out, or people looking to augment their practice. I don't think it's something that's a part-time practice if you're gonna be good at it. But I think it's a thing you can build fairly quickly. If you have good business acumen and you're willing to network and get involved.
The one thing I would say is, is I think the Zoom courts are here to stay for the most part in my talks with the administrative offices of the courts, it appears that they want to keep Municipal Court as much on Zoom as possible, except for certain types of cases. And I think you need to really be cognizant of that. And in that world have other conversations with your clients about how they appear, whether you want your client on the Zoom or not. And again, it's about learning different courts. Some courts don't care if your clients there or not as long as you're there, other courts want to know why your client's not on the Zoom. And you have to know that going in. And I think the one downside is you seem to get less time with the prosecutor. Whereas in the old days, pre pandemic, we'd all sit in a room and talk and you'd kind of wear people down, now you go in a breakout room, they come to you, you talk in the breakout room and then you go right out in front of the judge, there's less conversations with judges, less conversations with other attorneys sitting around. So I think you need to take advantage of when you're outside of court, much more than you used to in emailing prosecutors, calling them, things like that, I think is a good way to try to get done what you need to get done.
Jillian Kuehl - Okay. Well, thank you so much, Josh. It was such a pleasure having you here. I will flip it back to you now just to tell everyone how to get in touch should they have any questions.
Joshua Reinitz - Sure. My cell phone number is 362-6547. Feel free to reach out anytime my email, the best email to get me is just [email protected] My business email's long and complicated, but that one's easy, simple. [email protected] Please reach out any time, any questions you have in Municipal Court in New Jersey, there were a lot of people that helped me along the way, and I'm happy to talk about cases or send any briefs or anything else I can help with. And thank you, thank Quimbee for having me. It was a pleasure.
Jillian Kuehl - Thank you, Josh. All right, take care.
Joshua Reinitz - Be well.